Before chocolate is chocolate, it is a pile of fermenting beans. And yet from that mound of stink comes one of the single greatest culinary concoctions yet devised.
[Editor’s note: Make sure to check out Josh’s Organic chocolate farming in photos, published today at Matador Nights.]

I AM NOT A CHOCOLATE GUY — I go for Mike & Ike’s, not Hershey’s — but that doesn’t matter when I pop the brown morsel in my mouth in the tiny white foyer of the Grenada Chocolate Co. headquarters. I swear I hear violins played by chocolate dipped cherubs.

It seemed like an impossible conspiracy theory that this divine nibble of organic goodness could relate to the stinking pile of cacao beans covered in banana leaves I witnessed at the Dougaldston Spice Boucan.

The drying sheds of the Grenada Choc. Co.

***

As we pull up to Dougaldston, a tall woman in electric blue denim trousers and a tidy afro greets our group of travel writers and leads us inside a wooden building that looks simultaneously impervious and crestfallen.

She straightens her glasses and gathers us to a bundle of herbs at a low wooden table where Grenada’s agricultural bounty is unceremoniously spread before us.

The island’s fertile volcanic soil bursts with flavor, food and medicine. Nutmeg, cinnamon, papaya, callaloo, bay leaf, cloves, ginger — all grow in abundance. But chocolate is its sweetest export. Rows of beans bask in the Caribbean sun, plucked here on a farm that has bean aiding the world in its fine chocolate addiction for nearly 300 years.

She shows us all these things, with shy forbearance as we frame her on our cameras.

The woman draws a pairing knife across the thick red flesh of the cacao fruit, exposing a nestled bunch of beans. White and slimy, they’re harvested and then fermented for 7 days, until they’re nice and stinky, like a microwaved pile of dirty gym socks.

The end result

Outside, platforms set on giant rollers hold thousands of drying beans, ready to roll under the farmhouse should storm clouds arrive and threaten to rot the crop. Workers walk through the drying cacao, dragging their feet to turn the beans evenly, hitching their pants up and shuffling slowly.

Forty-five minutes later and I am at the co-op factory of the Grenada Chocolate Co., and a papaya truffle melts and slides ripples of happiness from my taste buds to everywhere else.

Chocolate guy or not, I will never look at a bar, chip, or morsel the same again. Beyond the smooth ridges and dark complexion I can see a muggy plantation, women with tidy afros supported by yellow bandanas, and piles of raunchy cacao beans wafting pre-chocolate funk into the jungle air.

[Josh’s trip to Grenada was sponsored by Tourism Grenada.]