Making bean-to-bar chocolate isn't for the faint of heart. In 2006, when a 21-year-old Colin Gasko began making chocolate in Minneapolis, he was lucky to have the hubris of youth on his side. “I just thought it was so obscenely crazy to be doing what I was doing,” says Gasko, who in person projects the detached, thoughtful demeanor of a computer engineer. In the years since Gasko founded his Rogue Chocolatier company, the bean-to-bar field has broadened, though with fewer than two dozen makers currently in the U.S., it’s still small. “It's crystallizing into a movement," Gasko says.
Gasko's latest project is equally ambitious: an $11 bar of chocolate called Silvestre, made from wild cacao harvested in the Amazon basin, along Bolivia’s Rio Beni. There’s only been one other attempt—by some Jesuits in the 16th century—to make wild cacao commercially viable, and that failed.
Gasko relies on cacao foragers to obtain the raw ingredient. "They go around in boats,” he says. “There are these huge unkempt trees on the side of the river, and they forage a bunch of pods. They have this incredibly crude post-harvest process, where they dump the seeds and the pulp.” Instead of a typical fermentation facility, foragers fill cloth bags with the wet cacao and hang them from trees before drying.
A centralized buyer collects chocolate from the independent collectors and negotiates sales to chocolatiers. Gasko says that, to the best of his knowledge, he's the only chocolatier in the country producing chocolate exclusively from wild cacao.
When we talked to Gasko he was at work on his third iteration of wild-cacao chocolate (it wasn’t ready for us to taste). "It has this deep, heavy earthiness," Gasko says of the flavor. "It has plum and a little bit of orange and some sort of ... it’s something I can't get my head around, kind of like spices." He pauses for a moment. "It's pretty unique."
But flavor is only half the story. Gasko notes that creating a market for a wild product from the Amazon can help sustain the forest itself. “The idea is that it's more valuable to keep the forest than cut it down."
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Image source: Colin Gasko / Rogue Chocolatier