“Rural space dedicated to promoting the culture, cultivation, and learning of Cocoa in an interactive way”
Vallarta Today was recently invited to visit Planeta Cacao Chocolate Garden to learn & experience the history and craft behind the art of making Cacao into Chocolate. The Cocoa tree is native to Mexico. Riviera Niyarite where Planeta Cacao is located is the furthest northern point for growing the Cocoa bean. Upon arrival we were immediately greeted by co owners Mina Ibarra and her business partner.Their enthusiasm and charm and passion for the artisan of chocolate was immediately evident. Their passion for the cocoa comes not only from their pallet but from their hearts. The Mexican heritage and history that Cocoa has brought to the world with chocolate started in Mexico and is a product that every country around the world enjoys.
The tour begins with the understanding that although the chocolate process starts with a bean in a pod growing from beautiful tropical trees until a finished product (i.e. chocolate) the entire process is artisanal work where much creativity goes into turning the cocoa bean into flavors of chocolate. Mina Ibarra and her business partner walked us (literally) down a path with a visual history and importance Cocoa has in the Mexican history & culture. Along the winding path a variety of Cocoa and Vanilla trees intertwine with well placed markers. It should be mentioned that all visuals along the path are written in Spanish and English. Also and are both Bilingual. Once the walking path tour and history were complete it was time for hands on interaction from removing the Pod off the tree to eating chocolate. The first step was to break open the pod on a large tree trunk. Removing the cocoa bean we then were walked thru the process of stripping the bean of the shell which is a very thin layer easily peeled, and roasting over an open flame wood burning stove. The process then took us through the grinding and adding ingredients that make the Cocoa into chocolate. Cocoa by itself is bitter and requires adding ingredients such as sugar, milk, etc. Everyone was given an opportunity to participate in the process of peeling, roasting, grinding, rolling, etc. and hand rolling their own chocolate. Everyone enjoyed sampling the finished product and we were treated to Mexican Brownies which the finished product resembles a mini slider. The group also enjoyed samplings of chocolate fudge and refreshing chocolate ice water.
The entire experience takes place anywhere from 40 – 60 minutes depending on your level of interest. A variety of finished packaged products are available for purchase. True chocolate enthusiasts will love this destination for its tropical garden of Cocoa plants along with the passion that the artisans of Planeta Cacao are eager to share. And who knows without Mexico maybe there would be no Willie Wonka..A note of interest and one of many interesting facts you will learn is that the worlds Cocoa is grown in countries lying within 20 degrees north or south of the equator. The worlds largest producer is West Africa, accounting for 70%.