One of our favorite travel experiences so far was making chocolate with the ladies of Chocal in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Chocal is a cooperative that is run by women who grow, process and package their own organic chocolate and sell it to specialty shops around the world. We were told that the women in their area do not get many opportunities to work so we thought it was amazing!
We were able to arrange this group trip through our cruise with Fathom, a short lived extension of Carnival Cruise Lines. It was a beautiful idea to bring volunteer work and charitable endeavors into vacationing. We got a chance to be on one of the first cruises to set sail. Fathom was also the first cruise line to dock a ship in Cuba! We didn’t get to go there but one day…
So back to making chocolate… we were picked up at the port and taken to Chocal by buses and they had a guide give us a briefing on the way there.
On arrival we got to taste some homemade hot chocolate (yum!) and then we were given a tour of the grounds. First we had to put on our glam hair nets!
We were then split into four smaller groups to rotate among stations to assist with their chocolate making efforts for the day. Here are the stations in the order that we made the rounds:
1: Separating the healthy cacao beans from those that were not so great. This happens after they were extracted from the cacao pods and set outside in the sun to ferment. If they were shriveled up there was probably nothing in them so they were to be discarded.
2: Taking out the shell bits so you only have the cocoa left to get ready to melt. This part of the process is ready once the cacao beans have been put through a machine to take off the shells. There are always a few stragglers so they use their woman-power to remove those by hand.
3: Spooning the melted chocolate into the molds. They melted it for us first and added sugar and the other ingredients that make a chocolate bar. We all got to make a mold.
4: Gluing the labels on the wrapped bars and boxing them. This is another thing they do by hand once the bars are removed from their molds and initially wrapped up in a sanitary space. We snuck tastes of the chocolate when there were damaged bars to discard. There were sooooo many damaged bars somehow (I have no idea how but don’t tell!)
Tah-dah! Our finished products! We wrapped chocolate orange bars (naranja).
The ladies do so many things by hand and I could see how they needed all of the help they could get. We ended up packaging a couple hundred bars for them that day. This feat would usually take them a week. It was such a nice feeling to help with making chocolate for the ladies and to grow their business.
Afterwards, we had some lunch and went out back to see where they grow the cacao and ferment the beans. Then we got a chance to buy some more of the chocolate that was made in their gift shop.
My first time seeing the inside of a cacao pod. We tasted the white part that surrounds the cacao beans. It was slimy, yet satisfying. I bet you’ve never heard that before!
Making chocolate with the ladies of Chocal was an amazing experience and definitely one that we will never forget.