We started working with beans from the Dominican Republic back in 2020, and our first bar (Puerto Plata 70%) won a Gold Award at the 2021 Academy of Chocolate Awards in the UK.
We were rather disappointed to find out that wouldn’t be able to source these beans very easily in the future so we quickly searched for alternatives. We didn’t have to search too long however, and were excited about the sample beans from Zorzal Reserve’s cacao. The Reserve’s mission to restore landscapes and biodiversity, while giving farmers the opportunity to earn a decent income with specialty cacao aligns with our purpose here at Truly Craft Chocolate and the flavor of the beans is simply spectacular!
Hence, we are making our 70% Zorzal bar the bar of the month for April. Just in time for Easter. There’s no better Easter gift than a truly sustainable bar of chocolate!
Reserva Privada Zorzal is a lush 1,019 acre farm and sanctuary situated in the Duarte province, in the very heart of the Dominican Republic’s cacao-producing zone. The soil – or the terroir - here in the Cibao Valley near the Northern Coastline of the Dominican Republic is rich and fertile, lending to a fantastic aroma profile in the cacao beans. The climate is perfect for growing cacao and the Septentrional Mountain Range protects the area against hurricanes.
Zorzal was started in part by Charles Kerchner who originally went to the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer and helped farmers apply agroforestry techniques to cacao farming and harvesting. He then went on to pursue a scientific career in nature conservation and reforestation. In 2012 he decided to combine his passion for cacao, nature conservation, and the Dominican Republic: he bought 50 hectares of farm land and built a fermentation center while establishing partnerships with neighboring smallholder farmers. The mission of Zorzal is to demonstrate that it is not only possible but also economically viable to produce fine flavour cacao and restore and protect the natural environment at the same time.
RESTORING THE ENVIRONMENT WITH SPECIALTY CACAO
The Dominican Republic is renowned for its gorgeous natural environment. However, some of the country’s forests are cut to clear land for monoculture agriculture. The Bicknell’s thrush is a victim of the resulting loss in biodiversity. Every year this little bird migrates over 4,000 km from North America to the Dominican Republic, but it finds its preferred wintering grounds – tropical forests – dwindling. Zorzal (thrush in Spanish) has made this endangered bird the focal point of its nature preservation. The farm is located next to Reserva Zorzal, of which 70% has been labelled ‘forever wild’. Both Zorzal Estate and affiliated smallholder farmers grow their cacao in an agroforestry system, which forms a natural protection zone for the Zorzal Reserve. Through the introduction of bird friendly farming techniques, the bird population in the reserve and on the farms has tripled. Zorzal also supports reforestation activities in order to restore a 200 km ecological corridor in the Septentrional Mountain Range, which happens to be the winter home of the Bicknell’s thrush
Zorzal has partnered with roughly 25 farming families around the estate, who receive premium prices for their cacao beans. In addition to going “beyond fair trade”, Zorzal works with farmers on organic farming techniques, pruning, grafting and training related to pests and disease control, resulting in healthier produce against lower costs. These skills are essential for growing fine flavor cacao beans, which are able to be sold at a fair market price. However the knowledge the farmers learn through cacao extends to tropical fruits, avocado, squash and ginger. Working closely with a small selection of local farmers allows Zorzal to adhere to high quality standards. As a charming side note, some farmers have become real bird enthusiasts and accompany visiting bird watching tourists as a guide. Farmers who are engaged in forest restoration receive payment for planting trees on their land, as a compensation for environmental services.
As we mentioned before, this is truly a special cacao bean but a very special spot on the world map.
Our resulting two ingredient chocolate bar has an intense chocolatey profile, with strong natural flavors of roasted nuts, dried prune and raisin. It presents natural and well-balanced tannins, pairs gorgeously with some red wines (as we discovered in one of our pairing sessions) and also fine whisky’s (as we also discovered in another one of our pairing sessions!).
Since we are a week late posting our Bar of the Month and since the Easter holidays fall in this month too, we will extend the special Bar of the Month price through to the middle of May, before taking a Summer Break with chocolate to focus a little bit more on Ice Cream!