When I was invited by Mindo Chocolate Makers to come see their production of chocolate, I was thrilled. Like so many others, I adore chocolate. However, you will rarely see me eat milk chocolate or any chocolate with less than 60% cocoa. I have spoiled my palate with wonderful dark chocolates and, now, after my tour of Mindo, I am afraid I have only refined my palate further. This chocolate is truly one of the best chocolates I have eaten and, after learning about their chocolate-making process and how this company came to be, I can see why.
Making chocolate was not Barbara Wilson and Jose (Joe) Meza’s original plan. What led them on the chocolate-making adventure started with Joe’s desire to return to his place of birth, Ecuador, after 41 years in the United States. Over the next six years, Joe and Barbara returned to Ecuador each year to visit and, eventually, they bought some land in Mindo, Ecuador to build a winter home. This “home” quickly became a cafe and a hostel named El Quetzal de Mindo. I believe the whole chocolate-making idea spawned from Barbara’s desire to make the already-popular brownie at the cafe better by using higher quality chocolate.
Mindo Chocolate Makers officially started in November 2009 and is a bean-to-bar company, one of only about twenty in the United States. They make single-origin chocolate with “flavor” beans from one region of Ecuador. The bean pods are carefully chosen from about 40 farms in that area. The pods are taken to their farm in Mindo where the beans are fermented and dried and then sent to their facility in Dexter, Michigan to be made into bars. The business is still quite young, but they have grown a lot in the last year. They have hired Chef Dawn Thompson to help with the chocolate-making. Dawn’s knowledge of cocoa and the chocolate-making process was impressive and her enthusiasm for the company endearing.
I could go on and on about what I learned from Dawn and Barbara that day. I could talk about the cabosses or the fruit of the cocoa tree. I could explain how they ferment the beans after they are removed from the pod or the drying and roasting processes. I could describe winnowing and tempering and even conching. But I’m not going to here. You can read more about how they make their chocolates on their website or, better yet, by attending one of their Saturday morning tours. Click here for their contact information.
What I do want to talk about is the care Barbara and Joe have taken in creating this business. They care deeply about the farmers from whom they buy their beans — they have personal relationships with each of them. The farmers were chosen specifically because they themselves care about growing cocoa plants in their natural habitat and using organic farming techniques. Barbara and Joe make sure the farmers they work with are paid fairly for their beans, and that the farmers, in turn, treat their workers fairly. From developing relationships with the growers to using recyclable packaging, and each step in between, attention is paid to every detail. I can’t help but wonder if the care they put into creating this business is as much about about respecting their roots as it is about maintaining high ethical standards; perhaps even more so. They have taken an important part of Joe’s heritage and background and used it to create a business that Michigan can be proud of.
These chocolate makers have too much respect for where they live and where they have come from to simply make good chocolate. For these two, to honor who they are, they need to make the BEST chocolate.
One of the products that they sell is cocoa powder so I thought I’d share my favorite brownie recipe.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
- Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease and flour an 8″pan.
- In a saucepan melt the butter. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, eggs and vanilla. Beat in the cocoa, flour, salt and baking powder. Spread in pan.
- Cook for 25-30 minutes.
Or if you just don’t feel like cooking here is one of my favorite deserts.
- One perfectly ripe pear
- One bar of exceptionally good dark chocolate such as Mindo Chocolate Maker’s 77% cocoa bar.
- Eat together
- Roll eyes