Chocolate Maker's Journal
The "Swiss Farm" Part 2: A Great Example of Fermentation
Posted on 5/18/2009 by John Scharffenberger
The other great thing about Finca Elvesia is their fermentation. Fermentation is the key step in bringing out cacao's great flavor. Get it right, and you've got a fantastic chocolate. At Finca Elvesia, fermentation starts in the field. The cacao is harvested and then the babas (the seeds with the fruit on them) are removed from the pods and put into plastic gunnysacks. (Note that the empty pods are left in the field to mulch and serve as micro reservoirs for the small midges that pollinate the cacao.)
John watches while beans are being harvested.
The sacks are loaded onto the burros and brought down the planted hills to the sheds near the farmhouse. They are then left overnight, which allows an enzymatic process to begin to loosen the pulp. The babas are then spread on a table and the remnants of the stringy stems of the pulp are removed by hand. These are put into the compost pile and the cleaned babas are moved into the fermentation shed.
The fermentation shed is built with a good cover, and sides but allows for some ventilation. The fermentation begins by putting the babas into boxes that can hold between 300 and 1000lbs of wet beans. There are three boxes adjacent to each other - each one is positioned behind and above the other in a step-like formation. The fermentation begins in the highest box when the babas are put into it and covered with banana leaves. Wild yeasts begin to consume the sugars in the pulp and produce heat, alcohol and CO2. This process starts to break down the sticky pulp and this continues for about 2 days. At this point, the cacao is dumped into the bin that is down the steps.
Beans are aerated when dumped and the fermentation begins. At the same time bacterial fermentations begin to feed on the sugars and alcohol and the process that turns bitter seeds into the ingredient of great chocolate is well on its way. One more dumping to the lowest bin is done about a day later and the fermented beans are free of the sticky pulp and put out to dry.
At Finca Elvesia, we tasted beans with varying fermentation levels and were once again amazed at the positive impact of good fermentation on cacao. Too much fermentation produced funky off flavors, while under-fermentation produced a lingering harshness.
Return to Journal Home