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Hacienda Limon, Los Rios Province, Ecuador - Samuel von Rutte

The Guayas basin, where the Hacienda Limon farm is located, is one of the most fertile areas along the Pacific coast. The abundant water resources and volcanic soils, rich in minerals and organic matter, make for perfect cocoa growing conditions.

Tragically, many of the best, fine flavour cocoas in Mexico and Central America have disappeared or been replaced with crops of inferior flavour. At the end of the last century a new variety called CCN51 was developed and is widely planted in Ecuador today. Although high yielding, up to 3 or 4 times the traditional crop of the superior Arriba group, it is difficult to ferment, affecting the quality of the crop and the flavour profile.

In Ecuador they have identified some 10 varieties considered to belong to the fine flavour traditional Arriba group. Today, however, only a few farmers plant the Arriba cocoa. This crop, with its unique and superior flavor profile, has become a very rare product.

15 years ago Samuel von Rutte, owner and farmer on the Hacienda Limon farm, made the decision to start up a unique plantation. He planted 157 hectares of Nacional Arriba cocoa using original genetic stock sourced from the Genbank collection created by the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1950s. He took great care and attention to how the crop was managed and understood that the methods of harvesting, fermentation and drying were all essential in contributing to the final flavour profile of the bean.

Samuel began to research how cocoa was fermented and dried in the past and discovered the process was very different to the scientific recommendations of modern farming. He began to adopt many of these traditional methods.

Today, when the crop is ready to harvest the beans are separated from the pods in the fields. The best beans are kept and poorer quality, undesired ones are discarded. The good beans are then placed in a Tendal (or patio) to be pre-dried for up to 8 hours. This process reduces the sugary pulp around the bean.

The pre-drying has a huge effect on the fermentation process. It significantly reduces the acidity and bitterness of the bean leaving a smooth, fruity, cocoa taste, very different from the strong, bitter taste after normal cocoa fermentation.

Next the beans are fermented in wide, open boxes for 2-3 days in temperatures exceeding 40 ‘C. Once the fermentation process is complete and the beans have taken on their distinct brown colour, they are ready to be dried. The crop is spread

over wide flat trays and can take 4-8 days to dry depending on the weather conditions.

The final crop can be roasted at very low temperatures without damaging the volatile flavours ensuring that their complexities are all present in the final product.

In 2014 Samuel and the Hacienda Limon farm were given Heirloom Cacao Preservation (HCP) status, one of very few growers in the world to have been awarded this accolade. The mission of the HCP is to identify and preserve fine flavor cacao. Heirloom cacao is considered to be the diamond of cacao beans. They retain historic, cultural, botanical, geographical, and most importantly flavour value. The HCP believe that the complex and intense flavour of Heirloom cacoa should be preserved and protected. Their work encourages conservation of biological diversity as well as the empowerment of farming communities.

To find out more about HCP please visit the Fine Chocolate Industry Association website.

We currently make seven bars and our Single Origin Drinking Chocolate using these Ecuadorian beans:

Eccles 55% - Academy of Chocolate 2016 Silver - International Chocolate Awards 2016 British Bronze

Ecuador 60% Dark Milk - Great Taste Awards 2015 2 Gold Stars

Ecuador - Hacienda Limon 75%

Ecuador - Hacienda Limon 85% - Academy of Chocolate 2016 Gold

Ecuador - Hacienda Limon 100%

Rye Crumb, Milk & Sea Salt 60% - Academy of Chocolate 2015 Gold - Great Taste Awards 2015 2 Gold Stars

Sourdough and Sea Salt 66% - International Chocolate Awards 2015 British Silver & World Silver - Academy of Chocolate 2015 Bronze - Great Taste Awards 2015 1 Gold Star