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December 4, 2010 / demarquettechoc

From Cocoa Tree to 3-Star award winning Chocolate – Part I

Chocolatier Marc Demarquette’s journeys to the Cocoa Plantations in Vietnam
 
There are many steps involved in the making of chocolate, with each playing a vital role in the quality of taste and texture of the final product. So how does it all start? Marc Demarquette, the UK’s most awarded chocolatier in 2010, journeys to Vietnam where his 3-Star Guild of Fine Food award-winning chocolate starts its life on the rich soils of the Mekong Delta’s Ben Tre Region.
On our way to Ben Tre

Rice fields on the way to Ben Tre

After a 15 hour journey from the UK, the descent into Vietnam’s southern city of Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it was formerly known, is impressive, barely skimming the rooftops of the vast city’s densely constructed buildings. With its airport located directly in town, one is immediately immersed into the hustle and bustle and paradoxically orderly chaos of millions of motorcycles.

A short night’s rest, a very early wake up just before sunrise, and we set off out of the city onto the recently completed, American-funded motorway which takes us south past vibrantly green rice fields and little rural villages with their busy morning markets.

Upon reaching Ben Tre, the capital city and municipality of Bến Tre Province, located in the Mekong Delta area of southern Vietnam, we stop by a roadside restaurant to meet our hosts for the trip to the cocoa plantations. After a delicously fresh Pho soup, we continue off-road into the hinterland, deeper and deeper into the palm-rich landscape towards our first cocoa plantation.

Marc Demarquette at the gates of Ben Tre City

Marc Demarquette at the gates of Ben Tre City

The last stretch requires a 20 minute walk deeper into the bush, straddeling streams and fallen palm trunks and then we arrive! There before us is the source of our 2010 3-Star Guild of Fine Food award winning chocolate. Sheltered by the protective shade of tall coconut palm trees, this particluar cocoa orchard is owned and run by a local farmer. The main crop in this area has always been the coconut which no longer offer a competitive market price.

With the support of Professor Pham Hong Duc Phuoc from the Nong Lam University (NLU) and head of the World Cocoa Foundation-NLU Joint Cocoa Project, whom we’d meet later that day, encouraged and taught farmers to dig irrigation trenches and plant cocoa trees. As a result these farmers now not only enjoy a higher yield of coconuts each year due to improved irrigation, but also have an additional stable income from their cocoa harvest which demands high prices in line with the cost of cocoa on the London stock exchange.

Marc visits Cocoa Orchard in Ben Tre

Cocoa Orchard in the Mekong Delta

The main harvesting season for the cocoa runs from September to January and most of the large pods have already been picked at this plantation. However, due to the tropical climate the plants flower and bear fruits throughout the year, so there is an abundance of cocoa pods everywhere we look.

As part of our commitment to support and source any of our cocoa exclusively from traceable and ethically managed highest quality cocoa plantations, Marc was very honoured to plant a young cocoa tree in the nutrient rich soil. In these ideal conditions this tree should bear the first pods in 3 to 5 years.

Part II will follow shortly where Marc meets another smallholder and his wife and participates in the next stages of transforming the Pod into chocolate.

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2 Comments

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  1. Melisa Harless / Dec 29 2010 9:23 pm

    I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

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  1. From Cocoa Tree to 3-Star award winning Chocolate – Part II « Demarquette Chocolate Blog

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