Where the Chocolate Trees Grow

Green Acres Chocolate Farm & Factory

We chose to anchor near Camryka because we had heard of a little farm called “Green Acres” that happens to be their neighbor. Cruising friends had strongly suggested stopping in for a walk around the property, as Dave and Linda Cerutti, the owners, are manufacturing chocolate from the cacao trees they found when clearing and improving their property. We were a bit shy about just going over by ourselves, but when we saw a lancha speeding up to their dock with some tourists inside, we jumped on the phone and asked if we could join them for a walk.

Dave and Linda are retired from the yacht captaining business. Dave explained that when they arrived in Bocas on somebody’s yacht ten years ago, a man in a cayucos paddled up and asked if they wanted to buy land. No, they said, they were sailors and weren’t interested. The cayuco man was undaunted, and after several tries, got Dave and Linda ashore and showed them 10 hectares (about 25 acres) of jungle, complete with a stream, ancient trees and vines, howler monkeys, toucans, sloths, parrots, and poison dart frogs. Dave asked the man his price — $20,000, he said. Dave countered by saying “12,000” thinking that would end the conversation, but he ended up with the property. He recounted that at the closing, as they were signing papers, it became apparent that the seller had no idea of the difference between $1200 and $12,000! In the next few years, they hired some local help to clear a home site, build the dock, and hack through the jungle, finding some amazing plants, including many varieties of wild cacao.

Linda, a plant fanatic, has turned the area around their home site into one of the most beautiful tamed wildernesses we have ever seen, encouraging orchids, heliconia, hibiscus, peace lilies, and more species of rhododendron than we knew existed, as well as making way for some spectacular tropical hardwood trees. Her efforts provide shelter to an amazing array of insect, amphibian, and other animal life.

Dave, not being much of a gardener, got interested in cacao, researching how the sweet fruit with big seeds ends up as chocolate. After about a 2 hour walk through his property, marveling at the flowers, golden orb spiders, poison dart frogs that look like they came out of a crayola box, and blue Morpheus butterflies as big as salad plates, Dave showed us his chocolate manufacturing “plant.”

He gathers ripe cacao fruit from his own trees, and the local Indians sell him ripe fruit that they find on their walks through the jungle. Twenty to sixty seeds, black and shiny and about the size of almonds, are extracted from each fruit and set out to ferment for 3 to 7 days. Then they are set out in trays to dry, tricky here in this area of unexpected tropical downpours. Once dried, he then roasts the beans in a contraption made from an old propane tank for about 30 minutes, then cleans and winnows the beans to separate the “nibs” from their shells.  He then grinds the nibs finer and finer until they release their oils and liquefy, pouring the resulting “chocolate liquor” product into ½ lb molds and refrigerating them to set.

Green Acres Chocolate Factory

This whole process is accomplished in a homemade “Rube Goldberg” factory, put together with old tanks, pieces of blenders, hammered together trays, and a circa 1960 refrigerator, all in the space of a single-car garage.

Well, we couldn’t leave Green Acres without buying some product and a cookbook – and a later experiment making brownies from scratch with 100% organic homemade chocolate produced the most satisfying chocolate experience of my short life!

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