After five months of living in Punta Gorda, I finally got around to the sweetest PG day trip of all: a tour of Ixcacao Maya Belizean Chocolate’s farm and production facilities.
There are quite a few artisan chocolate companies in Belize. It’s not hard to understand why: Belize has some of the most valuable, delicious, and nutritious cacao in the world. And as I described in a previous post, growing cacao is a win-win-win situation.
Even amidst this array of incredible local chocolate options, Ixcacao stands out. I’ve tried many different chocolates in Belize and Ixcacao is my favorite. Their ingredients are simple: a dark bar of ixcacao chocolate is 80% cacao and 20% sugar. All of their ingredients are grown on site, even the cinnamon, oranges, and cardamom used in their flavored chocolate bars. And they are the only Maya owned chocolate company in the world!
I’d heard many times that the tour was incredible, so I gathered a group of friends and we set off to the farm on a bus one Sunday morning in January. The bus dropped us off at the highway junction and the Mayan owner himself arrived to drive us along the painfully bumpy road to the farm.
It was immediately an experience: the owner has a fascinating and exuberant way of speaking that had us all giddy by the time we arrived. It is a high-energy combination of catchphrases that appeal to tourists (like “sustainably harvested” and “value-added”) and unique phrasing and vocabulary (he uses the word “likewise” to in every other sentence).
Likewise, when we arrived at the farm, we joined another group of tourists for the first part of the tour: a walk around one of the farm plots. The owner personally led us around, explaining the difference in ages and varietals of cacao. Likewise, he showed us many other plants grown on the farm, letting us smell and taste cardamom, all-spice, cinnamon, guava, belimbe, and more. Likewise.
He showed us an original wooden hand-cranked sugar cane press and let us put it to work! We likewise saw where cacao is fermented and the covered building where the beans are laid out to dry before roasting.
When we’d stuffed our brains full of information, we returned to the farm house to stuff our bellies. The meal started with a cup of 100% cacao hot chocolate followed by a truly criminal amount of chocolate chicken, stewed squash, fried plantains, and more. It ended with the best part: a piece of every single flavor of Ixcacao chocolate.
When we were all lolling about in food comas, the owner took the stage again. Likewise, he now showed us raw cacao, roasted cacao beans, and the stone tools that ancient Mayans used to produce chocolate.
Due to the high fat content of cacao beans, a dry bean ground on these devices turns almost instantly to liquid chocolate. It was bizarre to watch and intoxicating to smell.
He invited one of us up compete with him in grinding the beans. I jumped at the chance and lost miserably.
Once the beans were ground, he explained the ratio of chocolate to other ingredients used in their bars. He added a small amount of sugar in front of our eyes and had us taste the incredibly rich mixture. Though I know this speech was all marketing, it succeeded on me: I never want to put Nestle or Hershey’s chocolate in my body again. Down with chocolate flavoring! Love live cacao!
Likewise, we left the tour fat, happy, and full of chocolate.
Looking for things to do in Southern Belize? Check out my other posts about Punta Gorda!