Sunday, June 4, 2017

Belmont Estate Grenada: A historic 17th-century plantation now making chocolate from tree-to-bar

As a chocolate maker, I dream about making chocolate without ever needing to purchase and wait for a shipment of the beans. Jay Kang is living that dream at Belmont Estate in Grenada. He moved from London about a year ago to be the Head Chocolate Maker at Belmont, a historic 17th century plantation that grows cacao, spices and fruit, and also has a goat farm to make top quality goat cheese.

Jay Kang, Head Chocolate Maker/Chocolatier at Belmont Estate

Mr. Kang, a trained chef and chocolate maker, was tasked with the creation of Belmont Estate Fine Chocolate Inc. and constructing a small chocolate factory on the plantation, with the intention of using the cocoa beans grown at the estate, along with other spices and ingredients that are harvested on site.

I recently visited Belmont Estate for a tour of the grounds and a soft launch of their new line of chocolate bars, the flavours developed by Mr. Kang and the plans for a chocolate factory planned and supported by Shadel Nyack Compton, the Managing Director of Belmont Estates. This was a part of the Grenada Chocolate Festival, who shuttled us out to Belmont, and together with the Estate created a lovely all-day experience touring the grounds, learning about cacao and where it comes from, and tasting Belmont's newest chocolate creations.

The Belmont Estate grounds and view of the cocoa drying racks (top),
Dr. Darin Sukha of the Cocoa Research Centre (left),
Shadel Nyak Compton, Managing Director of Belmont (left-middle),
cocoa pods piled on the estate grounds, and the Belmont 'band' (far right).

In the morning, we toured the Estate's grounds and some of the paths through the cacao & fruit trees. Some people picked mangoes and citrus fruit and ate them - albeit with much mess - directly from the ground or the trees. Traditional Grenadian music with lively drumming was played by a band as we headed up the path from the main buildings into the trees. It was a fun and relaxing atmosphere as we started our Belmont journey.

Dr. Darin Sukha from the Cocoa Research Centre at the West Indies University (in Trinidad) was our guide along with the beautiful and charismatic Shadel. Dr. Sukha is a cacao expert and it was a very amazing experience to have him guide us through the plantation, teaching us all about Theobroma trees (i.e. cacao).



Who doesn't take a moment out of a cacao plantation tour
to kiss the pods?
Start with a seedling...
We started in the greenhouse, where Dr. Sukha discussed cacao seedlings, and growing the trees from seeds, versus grafting to get just the right mix of fine flavour cacao and a strong tree. We learned that the germination period is about 68 days from the seed. When the seedling is about 6 months old, it is large enough to plant outdoors. A cutting, on the other hand, can create a clone of the original plant - "a true vegetative replica" but with a different root system. Dr. Sukha also shared that new techniques in grafting are being explored at the Cocoa Research Centre in Trinidad, including the exploration of 'nano grafting', a method of using seedlings that are very young, just weeks old.

Beautiful little cocoa trees, just at their
beginning stages at Belmont Estate.

We learned a lot from the 'Cacao Doctor' as he was nicknamed, including  the main variety of cacao in Grenada is Trinitario, with some Forastero (hardier tree, less flavourful cocoa beans) and Criollo (delicate tree but produces fine flavour cocoa beans). Trinitario is a hybrid of the two other types, being hardier than Criollo, while producing cacao with a finer flavour than Forastero. Grenada is one of only 10 countries in the world that is officially classified as exclusively growing 'fine flavour cacao'.

Fermenting the cocoa beans...
As we explored the farm, he explained fermentation, where the beans (once removed with their pulp from the cacao pods) are kept for about 7 days in large wooden boxes to ferment. And although the microorganisms that are on everything on the farm make up 'terrior' , the fermentation is truly where the flavour develops. The first stage of fermentation creates alcohol and becomes more acidic, the next stage the acid bacteria causes the flavour change to happen, and breaks down the proteins into amino acids which contribute to flavour.

Dr. Darin Sukha, a Research Fellow
leading the Cocoa Research Center's Flavour
and Quality Section at the University of the West Indies.

We moved on to drying of the beans, with some visual and examples of how they would once 'walk the beans' to turn them over and separate them to help the sun dry each bean. Dr. Sukha cut open beans to show us the drying stages and fermentation.

'Walking the beans'

The Restaurant at Belmont...
After we celebrated with some traditional music, and an amazing lunch up at Belmont's on-site restaurant. The food was amazing, which included traditional Pepperpot with a twist of chocolate in the sauce, and pumpkin soup, with chocolate shavings on top. I could eat at this gorgeous open-air restaurant every day. It is available for weddings and events, so if you plan to get married in Grenada, I would strongly consider this wonderful location.


Pumpkin Soup seemed to be a Grenada special, and this one at
Belmont Estate restaurant was topped with dark chocolate shavings - delicious!
See the cocoa pod in the picture?

Belmont Estates' new chocolate factory...

After lunch, we enjoyed a chocolate tasting led by Dr. Sukha, and then toured the new chocolate factory, designed by Jay Kang, Head Chocolate Maker & Chocolatier at Belmont Estate. Since this was a 'soft launch' of the new factory, the Managing Director, Shadel (who, bye the way, just won a prestigious Entrepreneurship award just days before we arrived) began with a speech about the new factory and all the hard work of the Belmont family  - and by 'family', she was referring to her beloved employees who work at Belmont. She introduced the chocolate making team, as well as Jay Kang. From there, Mr. Kang took over and gave us all a tour of the new small factory, including the equipment selected to do the job.

Visitors can peek in on the workings of the chocolate factory
from the chocolate shop.
The chocolate factory kitchen has clean lines and
a lot of storage for aging chocolate.

The chocolate refiner was purring while we visited the factory.



As with most small chocolate factories, the winnower was built by hand, and the rest of the equipment brought, including the refiner and a cocoa butter press, in from all over the world. The kitchen was spotless, with clean lines and a lot of space for the chocolate makers to move around. I have to admit, I was salivating (as a chocolate maker, over the kitchen space and the equipment, as well as the chocolate).

As for the chocolate, Mr. Kang has developed four main flavours: Dark (with 74% cocoa solids), Milk (with 60% cocoa solids), a Sea Salt and a 'Pure Grenada' chocolate bar, featuring the spices of Grenada and that grow on Belmont Estate. Being a chef by trade, Jay plans to use the ingredients at hand to create new flavours moving forward, and to use them seasonally as they ripen. I think we may see amazing things from this small chocolate factory in the future.



The Chocolate...

I brought some Belmont chocolate home, which I've been working my way through the two I kept for myself. The Dark Chocolate bar with its 74% cocoa solids, is certainly an intense experience, with fruit and citrus flavours, and some floral notes.  The Milk Chocolate is no Hershey, with a whopping 60% cocoa solids, this certainly falls in the 'dark-milk' chocolate category.


The Belmont beans are a little like Crayfish Bay's and Grenada Chocolate Company's: bold and full of intense fruit and earthy flavours, holding some acidity in from the bean in the final chocolate. Jouvay's chocolate is a complete contrast with its lack of acidity and sweetness, as you will see if you taste and compare the two. Belmont's chocolate is certainly representative of the flavour of Grenada's cocoa.



The Spices and other Wonders of Belmont Estate...
While at Belmont, you can also purchase spices, which also grow on the property. I brought home several spices, including ginger, cinnamon and mace. There is also a Grenada Chocolate Company Boutique on the property, and a lovely gift shop with other handmade items from Grenada. This Estate truly is a destination to see when traveling to Grenada.



For more information on Belmont Estate, visit the website at:
http://www.belmontestate.net/index.htm.

For more information about The Grenada Chocolate Festival, visit:
http://grenadachocolatefest.com/.

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