From: Rainforest Alliance
Published September 15, 2004 07:36 PM

The Rainforest Alliance Unveils Its First Line of Certified Sustainable Chocolate with a Gourmet Tasting in New York

New York, NY -- The Rainforest Alliance, an international conservation organization that certifies tropical agricultural and other products for environmental and social responsibility, is unveiling the first line of certified chocolate and marking the occasion with a gourmet tasting featuring the work of renowned pastry chefs.


"Cocoa Cultures: A Celebration of Sustainable Gourmet Chocolates" will take place on Tuesday, September 21, 2004, 4:00 to 6:00 pm at The River Café, 1 Water Street, Brooklyn, New York. The media are invited. Sample creations made with the new Rainforest Alliance Certified Plantations Arriba Chocolate, a premium varietal chocolate from Ecuador, will be prepared by pastry chefs Ellen Sternau of The River Café, Jean-Francois Bonnet of Daniel and George McKirdy of Veritas.


The world's finest tasting gourmet chocolate happens to come from cocoa farmed using traditional shade-grown, small-scale, low-impact techniques. Encouraging sustainable cocoa farming in tropical countries and marketing the cocoa to consumers are effective ways of combating environmental damage from large-scale, full-sun, chemical-intensive bulk cocoa operations, while creating some of the finest gourmet chocolate in the world. Plantations Arriba Chocolate is distinguished by its exotic, jungle accents and aromas, a notable lack of acidity and bitterness, containing more cocoa than sugar, with much longer lasting flavor notes than ordinary bulk chocolate.


"Quality in chocolate can only happen with complete control over the key steps needed to unlock the cocoa flavor in the bean, and it starts by focusing with the farmers on the post-harvest process," says Pierrick Chouard, developer of Plantations Arriba Chocolate and president of Vintage Chocolates, the importing division of Echocolates.com. "Rainforest Alliance certification guarantees that native fine cocoa is still being grown in its region of origin and promotes the cultivation of shaded, fine cocoa versus the bulk hybridized variety grown for fat content, not flavor. You do not need to tinker genetically with the product to make it; Arriba native cocoa is naturally flavorful. One can unlock the potential of the bean by fermenting and drying the cocoa properly."


Native Ecuadorian cocoa, from which Plantations Arriba is made, is prized for its flavor and aroma. In the early 1900s, Ecuador was one of the world's leaders in growing and processing high quality cocoa for world markets. The country's long coastal plain was covered by lush forest, and cocoa farms flourished beneath the shade of the rainforest canopy.


But various plant diseases arrived in the 1920s and later, a series of government disincentives for high-quality cocoa processing resulted in declines in production and quality. The native cocoa grown under the species-rich rainforest canopy became widely displaced by an inferior hybrid version that is grown in deforested, full-sun fields. Farmers may receive a higher yield this way, but the cocoa is often inferior, bringing ever-lower prices, requires agrochemical inputs and provides no wildlife habitat.


The Rainforest Alliance and its Ecuadorian partner Conservación y Desarrollo (C&D), a leading nonprofit organization in the Sustainable Agriculture Network -- a coalition of conservation groups coordinated by the Rainforest Alliance -- have worked to restore Ecuador's native cocoa heritage since 1997, providing technical assistance for farmers and offering training for producers and processors.


In 2003, Pierrick Chouard set up "The University of Chocolate," regular training sessions in Ecuador featuring experts such as Dr.Lee, an ethnobotanist and physician researching the health properties of cocoa, and Dr. Phillipe Petithuguenin, head of the cocoa department of the French Tropical Agricultural Research Agency. "We were able to train and teach all professionals along the cocoa commodity chain - from the producers to the manufacturers and trend setters -- about the viability of growing quality chocolate as opposed to growing bulk volume chocolate," he said. "We introduced them to the markets that exist for native heirloom cocoa beans and we've been able to directly connect buyers and consumers to the farms."


Today traditional cocoa farming is resurging in Ecuador. Forested cocoa farms are a refuge for biodiversity, serving as home to 43% of the region's fauna and 25% of its birds, including howler monkeys, ocelots, and parrots. Individual small farmers in the C&D program, who might otherwise be at the mercy of price fluctuations in the volatile cocoa market, have organized into cooperatives with shared processing and sales facilities, computing, marketing and financial services. They have learned to properly sort, dry and ferment the beans using a cooperative processing facility, which reduces the number of defected, rotten cocoa beans and also happens to preserve the chocolate's anti-oxidant properties and its potassium content as well as its gourmet quality, helping them to command premium prices. Though cocoa is subject to various diseases, almost all farmers in the C&D program have raised production without resorting to chemicals, some by as high as 150%. Drying their cocoa with an emphasis on solar rather than gas-powered dryers and selling product through a cooperative, with technical assistance from C&D, these farmers have on average doubled production, lowered costs and boosted gross revenues. In Ecuador, this means better living conditions for thousands of small farmers.


Building on the C&D experience base, these best practices have been incorporated into sustainability standards set by the Rainforest Alliance, whereby the C&D model is being replicated within Ecuador and internationally. As a result, the supply chain for high-quality, sustainable chocolate is growing and the products are becoming increasingly available to consumers. Plantations Arriba Chocolate is already available in many finer restaurants, such as New York's Les Halles, Daniel, Waldorf Astoria and Picholene, and leading caterers and retailers including Zabar's, Zingerman and Freshdirect.com. It will also be marketed to independent retailers, specialty and health food stores interested in promoting natural, heirloom, unadulterated chocolate. The chocolate bars bear the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal, a guarantee to chocoholics that the cocoa in Plantations Arriba was sustainably grown.


For more information, to RSVP for the tasting event or to interview sustainable chocolate experts, call Bina Venkataraman at 212-677-1900.


Contact:


Bina Venkataraman, 212-677-1900, bvenkataraman@ra.org
Stephen Kent 845-758-0097, skent@kentcom.com


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