The cacao used to make MUCHOMAS Chocolate is rare and expensive for a reason – it is extremely difficult to cultivate. In fact, some cacao varieties are so frail and susceptible to disease, they are almost wiped out entirely.
To combat this problem, our friends, Giff and Jose Enrique, spend countless hours on their own Fincas and on the Fincas of their local partners walking amongst the cacao trees, painstakingly monitoring their health and growth.
When Team MUCHOMAS visited a Finca in La Dalia, we spent 5 hours walking and observing the trees and pods with Giff and the farmer. At the end we were ready to be back at the bar drinking Tona (Nicaragua's finest local beer)! We were hot, tired, covered in ant bites, scraped thoroughly below the knees from brambles, and wet from the sweat and rain. Of course, these problems were compounded by our lack of appropriate footwear, the number of Tonas we had consumed the night before, and, of course, our general city slicker-ness.
But Giff and Jose spend hour upon hour walking the Fincas and making sure each tree is prospering. Growing high-end cacao is not like growing other crops – you do not just plant it and hope for the best. In fact, most of the cacao that ends up in our chocolate bars is never planted in the ground at all!
You see, our cacao trees might be fragile but they are genetically special – they have famous ancestors, including close ties to the original Trinitario trees. To solve the problem of our genetically superior but infirm trees, Giff and Jose help local farmers graft these heirloom cacao trees onto more robust (but far less tasty!) cacao varietals.
Here’s how it works. Giff and Jose will plant cacao trees that they believe will be robust and able to thrive in the Matagalpan forest – not worrying about the quality of the beans. After those trees take root and begin to grow, Giff and Jose will graft cuttings from an heirloom cacao tree onto the trunk of the more robust tree they planted. When the graft takes hold, they cut away the old tree above the graft and what is left to flower are cacao pods that are genetically identical to the tree that the cutting came from. The tree below is where many of the trees now growing on Giff's Finca originated as cuttings.
Pretty cool right? The MUCHOMAS Chocolate you are eating is actually likely a clone of another cacao tree – not a relative, but an exact genetic duplicate.