Tobago’s Black Gold

Many of us let it slowly melt in our mouth. Some gobble it down in one breath, and then there is Duane Dove who pairs it with aged rum, inhales and then savours the aroma.

The bitter sweet taste of fine dark chocolate is a delicacy enjoyed by people across the globe. Its benefits are numerous and the enjoyment it creates is exponential. But rarely in today’s world do you find a lover of chocolate who actually starts a cocoa estate to produce the first single estate chocolate bar his island has ever produced.

Duane Dove spent many a day on a Cocoa estate and is filled with nostalgia when he talks about his youth. “One of the dearest memories I have growing up in Tobago, is going to our family estate at Frenchfield with my Uncle John early on a Saturday morning and picking cocoa, then cracking the cocoa to sweat and later dry in the sun. When we got tired we would suck a piece of cane to replenish lost energy and go again. Even today when I smell the pulp from the fresh pods it brings me back to my childhood,” he says, taking a walk down memory lane. Duane, fondly known to us as ‘Farmer D’ started his rum & chocolate pairing 13 years ago shortly after he graduated as a Sommelier from the Swedish Restaurant Academy. He began experimenting with different combinations before actually creating his personalized protocol for combining premium dark chocolate with aged dark rum from the Caribbean. Duane became well known with his pairings demonstrating for celebrities, at numerous trade shows, and also at his shop in Stockholm.

At the beginning of the 20th century Tobago was the major producer of high grade cocoa, growing beans so fine; its flavour was world renowned. However, Tobago’s cocoa legacy also meant labour without profit. Having put in the toil demanded by the production of the raw material, Tobagonians had to sit back and watch others reap the rewards! Throughout his years as a sommelier, when Duane saw chocolate bars proudly displaying the Trinidad & Tobago brand across Europe and North America and it caused him to question, “who are these people who have discovered the wealth of OUR cocoa and are benefitting from it? Why aren´t Tobagonians benefitting?” And thus his vision began.

Dove acquired his cocoa estate in 2004. His vision was always to create a chocolate bar that reflected the true quality of Tobago Cocoa. After working in the food and beverage industry for 13 years, Duane realized the potential of the Trinidad and Tobago cocoa industry and seized the opportunity to utilize the resources at his disposal and create Tobago’s first ever Single Estate Chocolate Bar.

“It has taken us 5 years, 150 people, 1600 days and 56 000 working hours to get us here today” Dove commented at the launch of his first chocolate production. “And let me tell you, it has been an enormous undertaking to fulfill that vision, as my wonderful staff knows only too well! I had a gut feeling from the beginning I was doing something right. But when you look at a bush fire destroying thousands of dollars of your investment, it shakes you to your core… as we looked at the damage, one of my staff turned to me and said ’Boy you have to have belly to do this thing’” Duane explained.

With his first harvest in 2009, Dove in collaboration with Francois Pralus created the first ever Single Estate Chocolate from Tobago. All the cocoa Dove and his team planted over the past 3½ years was transformed into the same batch of chocolate produced by Pralus in France. Traditionally the cocoa grown in Tobago would be sent to Trinidad and “mixed” with cocoa from other estates to, however Dove’s chocolate was the first of its kind to be made totally from a single estate, hence the name.

For Dove, his chocolate bar embodies a new destiny for the Tobago Cocoa industry where Caribbean cocoa farmers who produce the raw materials are able to also benefit from the finished product on the shelves. He is a living example that the Tobago farmer can now earn value from every part of the process and at the same time strengthen the T&T brand.

The small farmer is fast becoming a thing of the past in the Caribbean as larger companies flood the market with cheaper produce.  However, Duane firmly believes that if cocoa farming is seen as a viable career option, utilizing all available resources, Tobagonians as well as other Caribbean farmers will be able to capitalize on every phase of production in a sustainable way.  Hopefully, cocoa can once again become Tobago’s black gold.

The forces of globalization squeezed out the small man. But, the same globalization has created a niche market for fine quality artisan chocolate and a golden opportunity to rejuvenate the Tobago cocoa industry.

 

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