By Juan Pablo Crespo

Barlovento is to cocoa as El Rey is to chocolate. However, as Barlovento is much more than cocoa, this Venezuelan company with almost 90 years of history is also much more than their internationally awarded high-quality product.

Beyond the conquest of the world palate by Chocolates El Rey it is necessary to look behind to see those men and women increasingly engaged with a high production and productivity of cocoa, a pairing that boosts a ripple effect in which everyone wins.

In the sub-region of Barlovento, specifically in the municipality Acevedo, Chocolates El Rey has continuously shown over time that social responsibility and good agricultural practices can walk hand in hand. In fact, they intertwine and produce results as tangible as waves, Devils of Yare’s masks or the drums resounding in Barlovento during Saint John festivities.

In Acevedo, agriculture is the main economic activity and, of course, cocoa raises the baton in a natural green spectacle as fertile as warm and humid. There, Chocolates El Rey assists through a programme named “Más y mejor cacao” (More and Better Cocoa) about 1,200 people linked to the seed, as representatives of 300 families ancestrally connected with the work of Barlovento of cultivating the “food of gods”.

For the producers, the tropical fruit and chocolate are as a sacred apostolate
For the producers, the tropical fruit and chocolate are as a sacred apostolate

Hand in hand with the producer

“Basically, what we do is to provide comprehensive care tools thus performance and plantations production may be improved,” explains Francisco Betancourt, Agricultural Engineer and head of the company’s Unit of Agricultural Management which uses 100% Venezuelan cacao, fermented, sun-dried and processed through cutting-edge technology.

The programme “More and Better Cocoa” has made possible the rehabilitation of 150 hectares per year, where production has been even doubled in some cases. “There were some areas in Barlovento with a production range from 250 to 300 kilos per hectare, but now their productions range from 500 to 600 kilos per hectare,” explains Betancourt, an expert in plant breeding with a Master in Cocoa Cultivation in Mountain Conditions from the University of Guantánamo.

In other cases the rehabilitation plan has allowed to obtain productions ranging from 800 to 900 kilos of cocoa per hectare, and increasing.

As a head of the Agricultural Management Unit of Chocolates El Rey, Betancourt’s professional life is focused on meeting the needs of cocoa producers. For him and his working team, the tropical fruit and chocolate are as a sacred apostolate. “Cocoa goes far beyond the seed or the plant. In fact, it is about human beings who deal with a culture, going through a way of feeling and working in such a wonderful world.”

Francisco Betancourt, Agricultural Engineer and head of the company’s Unit of Agricultural Management
Francisco Betancourt, Agricultural Engineer and head of the company’s Unit of Agricultural Management

Edges for a joint success

When production and productivity are improved, it is boosted a profit that seeps up all the cocoa family. Hence, Chocolates El Rey launches several united edges, such as agronomy edge (rehabilitation) and organizational edge. The latter allows producers to create and structure the historic cooperative system (cayapa). “We also have the marketing edge, where producers who belong to our programme receive bonus for the quality of their cocoa. In this sense, we mean a fine aroma cocoa, “said Betancourt from Barlovento, Miranda State, Venezuela.

“We also have the productive infrastructure edge in order to build or improve processing units as appropriate, which are parts of drying and fermentation structures which allow the producer to increase quality of the grain as well as cocoa prices, as a result.”

Although Chocolates El Rey pays more to cocoa producers, it gets a raw material of the highest quality in return. “We do not use intermediaries (traffickers). We carry out direct commercial transactions using the platform of an institution called Aprocao (cooperative), “said Betancourt.

Rolling dryers used in Barlovento
Rolling dryers used in Barlovento

A suitable process

The joint efforts company-producers turn into making a world-class chocolate by using good agricultural practices as a seal of guarantee. Although it is true that Venezuela has the best cocoa in the world, to become this reality it is necessary to process it adequately. Chocolates El Rey, with its program “More and Better Cocoa” carries out along with its allies in the field the monitoring, tracking and control of the whole process of fermentation and fermenting doughs.

“We make a whole fermentation protocol that allows us to enhance an average cocoa to a very high quality one. We refer to a cocoa approximately 76% of fermentation, a mould to a lower level of 3%, a cocoa whose plain grains, sprouts and insect bites are not more than 3%, and also with humidity content below 8% “says Betancourt.

An ideal fermentation is more than essential because in this phase there are chemical reactions and changes in the grain to improving its organoleptic features, typical of fermented cocoa. “This step is fundamental for the production of high range chocolates. World-class chocolates are made with cocoa class F1 or fermented cocoas” says the Agricultural Engineer graduated from the Central University of Venezuela.

Carenero, a very popular type of cocoa from Miranda State.
Carenero, a very popular type of cocoa from Miranda State.

Honour to perseverance

The outcome of the process in which art and science combine is historically known as cocoa Carenero Superior, with excellent colours, aromas and flavours. It is important to recall that since colonial times this cocoa has had a great demand in the world for obtaining a supreme chocolate.

With the logbook of good agricultural practices and environmental protection (sustainable cultivation that promotes natural cycles without using pesticides or fertilizers) taken as a focal point by the producer, Chocolates El Rey at present exhibits in its display cabinets, and as a Venezuelan pride, awards that appoint the company as the only Latin American representative on the list of “Top 50 Chocolates in the World” (2011) in “Good Living Guide”. A year later, Chocolates El Rey was awarded the gold medal for its white chocolate Icoa Carenero Superior in the “International Chocolate Awards”. Thanks to these and other awards, the company has been globally acknowledged as a pioneer in the country in the use of a single type of cocoa for making fine chocolates.

Likewise, social responsibility and the programme “More and Better Cocoa” are also implemented, and according Betancourt, in all cocoa production areas in the country from west to east, passing through the Venezuelan South.

Thus, Chocolates El Rey and producers are engaged in a symbiotic relationship with one of its focal points is in Barlovento what incidentally, etymologically means “where the wind comes from”, but we might add that it is also a land where one of the best cocoas in the world comes from. Of course, provided that it is handled with the required international standards.