The 12th April was the day of the FA Cup semi-final, with Arsenal – Sam’s first and only true love – playing Wigan for a spot in the final. Obviously, even exploring South America has to be put on hold for an event as momentous as that, so Sam headed over Paddy’s Pub, an Irish pub in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas, bright and early to watch the match. Surprisingly, this didn’t appeal to me, so instead I decided to spend the day with the one thing in the world I love as much as Sam loves football: chocolate!
Yes, readers of my previous posts will notice that I had already been to the Chocolate Museum in Cusco twice by this point. Well, if you count popping in to book my workshop the day before, I was already up to three visits, so by now I was more or less a regular. Sadly, no one offered me ‘the usual’ when I turned up on Saturday morning ready for my chocolate making workshop, but most of the staff recognised me – not sure if that’s a good thing!
Chocolate Museum Cusco
Even if you’re no Augustus Gloop, the Chocolate Muesum in Cusco is well worth a visit! There’s a reason I kept going back, when much cheaper chocolate is available in most shops. A small, second floor building with a large kitchen – where chocolate is prepared all day, every day, filling the museum with my favourite scent – the museum has a lovely little cafe (selling the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted), as well as tons of exhibitions.
I genuinely learnt a lot – after all, it’s easy to learn a lot about your favourite subject. Did you know for example, that chocolate doesn’t contain caffeine, like most people think, but theobromine, a chemical very similar to caffiene in structure but with slightly milder, nicer properties: it’s not addictive, it’s a mild anti-depressant, and it creates a similar feeling in the body to that of falling in love. No wonder chocolate is my favourite food!
As well as a lot of genuinely interesting information about the production, history and chemistry of chocolate, the museum also sells hand made chocolate produced on site from organic, fair-trade cacao, which comes from a few small local farms. What’s not to like?
Three times a day, the museum also runs a two hour chocolate making workshop. At S./70 (about £14) it’s not the most budget friendly way to spend a morning, but the workshop was awesome, I ate approximately my own body weight in chocolate, and we all got to take our creations away with us – so I’d say it was most definitely worth the money!
The workshop started with a tour of the museum, beginning upstairs around the fake cacao tree where we learnt all about the plant and the different types of cacao pods, which look a lot like red and orange peppers or large chillies, and which contain around 60 cocoa beans.
From Bean to Bar
Downstairs, we opened up a fresh cacao pod, and tasted the super sweet, fruity white pulp which surrounds the beans. Our lovely teacher, Christian, got some dried cocoa beans (which are usually dried in an airtight box for seven days), and we tried the inside of those, too. The taste was incredibly bitter and not a bit like chocolate, and the texture was hard and nutty, but as we started roasting the beans in a clay pot over a small gas hob, the delicious aroma of chocolate quickly filled the air.
Once roasted, we each took a handful of beans, peeled and then crushed them with a stone mortar and pestle, until we each had a thick cocoa paste. At the Choco Museum, the peeled shells aren’t discarded or used for fertiliser, like in most factories; instead we used them to brew a delicious chocolate tea. It’s really sweet, smells exactly like chocolate and tastes very faintly so.
Mayan Hot Chocolate
Once we had our chocolate paste, Christian called on me to volunteer to help make hot chocolate. We made it Mayan style first, in honour of the civilisation that discovered the awesome properties of the cacao plant. I mixed chocolate paste with a pot of honey and a generous helping of chilli powder, then Christian said that he needed some of my blood, to mimic the Mayan sacrifices, and threatened me with a sharpened stick for so long I started to doubt that he was joking.
Thankfully for my tongue – which had the weapon pointed at it – and the people that didn’t want to drink bloody chocolate, he was joking, and instead I mixed the paste with nice, hygenic hot water – pouring the mixture between two jugs over and over to mix it up Mayan style. The finished product, if I do say so myself, was delicious – if you’ve never tried hot chocolate with chilli and honey I strongly suggest you run into the kitchen now and rustle some up. It’s sweet and spicy, and the chilli makes the drink really warming, with a nice kick to the back of your throat at the end of each sip.
Thankfully, my volunteer duties were now over, and another member of the group helped Christian prepare hot chocolate in the style of the colonial Europeans; with hot milk, cinnamon, cloves and sugar. Also delicious, but creamier and more sweet, this drink can only be described as Christmassy.
Flavouring the Chocolate
Chocolate related beverages exhausted, we turned our attention to the highlight of the workshop: chocolate making time! Since it takes 24 hours of mixing with cocoa butter and other ingredients to turn the cocoa paste into melted chocolate, Christina doled out some pre-mixed bowls so we didn’t have to camp overnight to make our treats.
We each selected a mould – obviously I went straight for the vegetable shapes, because who doesn’t want their chocolate in the shape of a leek? – and Christian produced an enormous selection of flavours and toppings, from coffee and mint, to oreo cookies and marshmallows. The next bit was easy, messy and very fun: we simply filled the moulds with melted chocolate and mixed in our chosen flavourings. I went for dark chocolate with sea salt and cacao nibs, with mint, and also a few with coconut. As it turns out, I’m not set to be the next Willy Wonka; my amounts were all off, with the coconut so subtle as to be non existent and the sea salt so overpowering that you couldn’t really taste the chocolate. Still, I had a reallyf great time finding out that my talents lie in eating, rather than making, chocolate.
I left with a big bag of hand-made chocolates, a very stuffed belly, and a pretty big grin on my face! If chocolate really does create mild euphoric feelings, I must have spent the rest of that day on a high. If you’re in Cusco, don’t miss the chocolate museum and, if you like chocolate, make sure to do a workshop – it’s genuinely the best class I’ve ever been too!