Before he turned his talents to crafting chocolate, Mark Schimmel was a talented pastry chef. He trained in three-star Michelin kitchens before eventually becoming head pastry chef in a two-star Michelin restaurant in The Netherlands. It was during this time that Mark developed a real passion for chocolate. He loved working with it as an ingredient and wanted to learn more. He wanted to understand the story behind the chocolate that arrived in his kitchens, ready for him to melt down and craft into spectacular creations… He was eager to discover the role of origin, and to understand how even the smallest change to a recipe could dramatically alter the flavour of a finished chocolate.
For this chocolate, the cacao beans originate from a plantation that was founded in the early 1900s by Spanish immigrant Moisés Mugüerza Gutiérrez, also known as Don Moisés. In addition to growing cacao, Don Moisés also harvested coffee and other crops. He planted Criollo species of cacao, which he collected from southern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Unfortunately, as a result of the Mexican government’s agricultural reform policy, majority of Moisés’ plantation and cacao-nurseries had been seized after the Mexican revolution. Yet, 100 years later, the grandson of Don Moisés returned to the growing and cultivating cacao heritage of his grandfather.
Mark Schimmel has previously brought to our library a comparison fermentation duo bar: the 4.5 and 5.5 day. This duo demonstrated how fermentation plays a big role in flavour. For this 6 day limited edition bar, Mark uses the same flavour rich Mexican beans, but with a slightly longer fermentation.
To get a better understanding of this special edition six day fermentation bar, we met with Mark Schimmel and the leading cacao farmer of the family farm Finca La Rioja.
Finca La Rioja – ‘Finca’ is Spanish for estate – has four workers, with each of the farmers’ families living on the farm. The farm is 9.25 hectares, and the Finca La Rioja plantation itself is 7.5 hectares. The cacao grows amongst flowers, avocados, bananas and guavas, to name a few. The Finca La Rioja has a lot of animals too, with birds, bees, squirrels, woodpeckers. The owner of the farm went on to say that that the woodpeckers beat the pod, which is inevitably bad for production, however he will not allow for any animals to be harmed. Instead, the farmers like to combine the cacao with nature.
The cacao beans are turned just once, which naturally increases the temperature, and the beans are left to ferment for six days.
José María Pascacio Muñoz, who runs the farm, hadn’t any serious knowledge of how to harvest or ferment cacao. José spoke to María Salvadora Jimenez, of Daarnhouwer, on how to improve the fermentation and complexity of his farm’s cacao beans; it was in 2015 that José started working with María, and who José names as the key to success of La Rioja.
Originally José had reached out to chocolate maker Mark Schimmel of Krak, who had given feedback on the cacao beans, saying they were very good but the acidity levels could be better. José began to research fermentation and its key processes, and from what he learnt from Mariía he slowly began changing his method of fermentation. The final method produced beans that had fruity flavours and delicate honey and caramel notes. José sent a sample of the cacao to Maria, who in return was dazzled by the flavour: “what are you doing with the beans?!” José tells us. This positive feedback from Maria, friends and chocolate makers resulted in this new method of fermentation for José and his Finca La Rioja plantation.
With the once-turned method, José found the beans to have a more pleasant aroma than before.