BY PATRICK GARVEY
We held our inaugural Chocolate Festival on January 23rd. Despite the poor weather, the event was a great hit. Over 700 people showed up to experience an extravagant day of chocolate. There were many vendors, lectures, music, wine and most importantly chocolate.
The highlight of the event was our chocolate station, led by internationally acclaimed Chocolatier, Eric Gilbert. We had cacao trees, pods, seeds, cacao butter, cacao nibs, and a new chocolate grinder that turns cacao nibs into chocolate paste. Attendees had an opportunity to taste and make chocolate. Many of our Keys residents got to experience firsthand the bean to bar process.
Theobroma Cacao literally translates as “food of the gods.” Cacao is a small-medium (13–26 ft) tall) evergreen tree in the Malvaceae family. They are native to the deep tropical regions of Central and South America.
If you ever consider growing Cacao, be mindful of several important growing conditions. The cacao tree is an understory tree, so they prefer shade, or a little sun. They are sensitive to the wind, and cold. The tree may die if temperatures dip into in the 40’s, so we’re actually pretty lucky here in the Keys. But be sure that you have a windbreak to protect your tree. Cacao is also a thirsty tree. They like to have about 60 – 80 inches of rain a year. They prefer a more acidic – neutral soil. Unfortunately, our soil is much more alkaline; however, using Chelated Iron, fertilizers and compost, especially coffee grinds can really improve the soil conditions, making a much happier tree. At the Grimal Grove we grow Cacao. We currently have 6 trees producing cacao pods. One of my favorite things is that it fruits year round, although it fruits heaviest in late summer.
Be sure to come and check out the Cacao trees at the grove, and learn more about how to grow them. We are open Saturdays 10 – 2 PM. We have a variety of tropical fruit trees, including cacao, available for purchase at our nursery. For more information, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or better yet stop by on Saturday!