As all good stories, this too began with an idea. And as with all good ideas, it came to life from need and opportunity: the need for chocolate and the opportunity to start a chocolate factory. This is the story, told by Harm who started the whole thing.
When my two kids, my wife and I arrived in Nicaragua in 2004 for we already knew that there was no good chocolate available. We packed at least 50 bars of 75% cacao to take with us on our three year contract, hoping to last the time until the first visit from friends or us abroad, with strict limited rations. As true chocoholics, we feared the time when we would have to resort to M&Ms or snickers to calm our chocolate crave.
However, a few weeks later, taking a detour with our two kids, we ran in to a number of cacao trees, abonded. And cacao pods, not harvested, rotting on the ground. It was obvious that something needed to be done. We went into research mode.
We bought cacao in the market and roasted some in a pan: it worked great for cookies and we munched away happily for a few weeks. Then we heard of a man making chocolate, somewhere in the mountains, an hours drive away.
I found Don Guillermo Castillon in the small village of La Dalia. He had a few blocks of cacao lying in his dusty shop. I bought the lot. In the afternoon I started experimenting. The foul tasting blocks of milled cacao into chocolate? Was that going to work?
By the end of that afternoon, after throwing away at least three batches, I had something passable. When my wife came home from work that afternoon I gave her a small piece, Her eyes lit up ... a smile ... then a bigger smile ... I knew I was on to something good.
The Chocolate making process
In the months that followed it was continuous research, what was good cacao? Where could I get it? How do you make chocolate? Do you really have to follow all those process steps to have a good final product?
Starting small we made a separate kitchen, bought a kitchen aid, and, with business in mind, packed the chocolate, pasted on a label and left some at the local Italian restaurant hoping that it would sell.
It did, within three days they were asking for more. The business was born.
Since then we have only been improving, buying better cacao, installing a industrial grinder, cooling areas and of course constructing more Castle space and getting others involved. We are now five associates. As we grow we concentrate on the environment and social economic factors. We buy only organic cacao and all our kitchen staff are hired on a permanent contract basis. We are affirming relations with cacao cooperatives and share information on cacao prices and even giving training on chocolate making to cacao farmers.
Please come and visit, and we will gladly tell you more.
To be continued.......