Next Thursday is Thanksgiving in the US. So we’d like to start by wishing all our American readers a happy holiday and suggest you celebrate with some Craft Chocolate, potentially with a Colombian twist: hot chocolate with cheese rather than marshmallows.
In a last ditch effort to resist switching to Christmas shopping, we are exploring Colombian Craft Chocolate this week.
Colombia is well known for a number of products starting with “C”. Chocolate and Coffee on one side and then, less desirably, Cocaine and also Cadmium on the other. Colombians are rightly very proud of their cocoa – and have a long tradition of (hot) drinking chocolate. But instead of marshmallows, they dunk another product starting with a “C”, cheese, in their hot chocolate.
Although Colombia borders the Amazonian rainforests of Ecuador and Peru where the cocoa tree first appeared, it wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that Colombians acquired a Chocolate habit, as upper-class Colombians copied the Spanish Court’s habit of drinking chocolate.
As industrialization hit the world of chocolate and prices became more affordable, drinking chocolate became a central part of Colombian miners’ and farmers’ mountain diets. And in the latter half of the 19th century, drinking chocolate became a central part of late-afternoon snacking and socialization across all classes. In turn this kickstarted a local cocoa growing and a domestic chocolate industry so that even today the vast majority of cocoa consumed in Colombia is still grown locally, and only relatively small amounts are exported.
Colombian drinking chocolate is traditionally prepared by breaking a chunk of cocoa from a block and heating it with milk or agua de panela (made from unrefined sugar). Once the drink is hot it is frothed with a molinillo and served with different kinds of typical foods and preparations like arepa con queso, tamal, pan de yuca (a large, flat cassava cheese bread) or with caldo and eggs to form a hearty breakfast.
Quite how cheese entered this mix is unclear. Possibly it came through the habit of eating almojábanas (a small, round cheese bread) along with the hot chocolate. But the addition of salty cheese created a fantastic “bliss point” drink that is sweet, salty and incredibly moreish. For those who want to try it, ask for a “chocolate santafereño”, named after one of the prior names of Colombia’s capital city Bogota (Santa Fe de Bogota)
Any which way, it’s definitely worth trying this instead of, or at least alongside, marshmallows in your drinking chocolate.
Cadmium is a heavy metal that is toxic for the human body. When consumed, it cannot be absorbed by the body, so over time it accumulates and can cause harm to many of your major organs. Because of this, cadmium is considered a carcinogen (i.e. it increases your risk of cancer).
New studies have recently shown that cocoa trees take up naturally-occurring cadmium from the soil – the more volcanic and acidic the soil, the more cadmium is present. That’s why Colombian farmers – with their volcanic soils and high acidity – have been worried by new regulations limiting the amount of cadmium that can be found in cocoa beans.
While this has caused some concern in the chocolate world, there is little to be afraid of. We eat far larger doses of foodstuffs with higher counts of cadmium every day: cereals, vegetables, meat products, etc. And cocoa bean importers, such as Uncommon Cacao, have started running regular tests of their beans to ensure cadmium levels are well below what’s considered unsafe. You can read their report on the matter here.
Across the world, over 30% of cocoa crops are lost to disease every year. A lot of effort has been spent researching disease-resistant varieties, or agricultural practices that can help keep cocoa diseases at bay.
But in Colombia, which has been ravaged by civil war and political turmoil, that research has been held back. Now though, with new peace treaties and hopes that the country can repair and rebuild, things are looking up. Scientists can access new areas of the country to research local cacao strains, and the government is keen to help cocaine farmers find new ways to make a living. Cacao, which thrives in similar climates to its cousin, Coca, has been put forward as an ideal replacement crop.
You can read more about the situation in Colombia here.
We’ll also be talking about Colombia as a source of great beans in our next “Craft Chocolate Conversation”, scheduled for the 3rd December with Philipp Kauffmann – listen for free by registering here and purchase the tasting kit below and here
So please celebrate Thanksgiving with some great chocolate bars crafted in the US from Colombian beans by Fruition and Castronovo, maybe even with some cheese. And see below for these bars, plus some other great bars crafted from Colombian beans from Colombia itself, Switzerland, the UK and the Netherlands (including a bar sailed over on the Tres Hombres made for lovers)
Wishing you a great weekend
Spencer, Simon, Lizzie, Harmony and James
PS: Christmas moves inexorably closer – and all subscribers should be receiving our Christmas Catalogue with their monthly box soon. This year we’ve also a digital copy – please see https://cocoarunners.com/catalogue/. Given the challenges the Royal Mail and other postal services are likely to face, we’d advise purchasing as early as you can.