A couple weeks ago, I toured Belmont Estates with a few girl friends. This 400-acre plantation is located on the northeast corner of the island. Although it's only about 22 miles from campus, it takes over an hour to get there due to the mountainous terrain. On the way up, we drove through Grand Etang, a rain forest in the center of the island. We stopped on the side of the road to feed the monkeys that live in the nearby trees.
Belmont Estate was established by the French in the 1700's. It has changed hands only a handful of times since then, and is currently owned by an Indian family. This bell has hung on the property for over 300 years.
Not only is there an organic chocolate factory on this estate, but the surrounding plantation provides fresh fruits and vegetables to most of the island. Several well-known chocolate companies, such as Lindt and Cadbury, buy some of their cocoa from Belmont Estates. Our morning began with a tour of the chocolate factory.
The cocoa bean comes from a large shell that looks like an oversized nutmeg:
There are several beans in each pod, and they are covered in a white, slimy film.
We actually tasted the beans by sucking on them until the film was gone. At first it tasted like a combination of a mango, banana, and apple. But within a couple seconds it started to taste like yeast, and the texture was a little overwhelming. For production, the beans are placed in wooden stalls inside a building, covered with banana leaves, and left to drain until all the liquid is gone.
Next, the beans are placed in large, shallow trays and dried in the sunshine for up to 7 days. Every 30 minutes, the beans are "stirred" by workers walking barefoot through the trays. The tour guide put us to work while we were there.
The best part of the tour was being able to sample some of the delicious chocolate. We were given dark chocolate pieces and an amazing cup of hot chocolate.
The hot chocolate is made by boiling cocoa balls (pressed cocoa powder) in water, straining the mixture, then combining it with milk, cinnamon, and bay leaves. I bought a small bag of cocoa balls at the gift store and can't wait to try it at home.
After our tour, we enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch at the lovely restaurant on the estate. The day ended by walking around the grounds, observing the many animals (monkeys, goats, parrots, and tortoises) and sampling different fresh fruits (wax apples and guava). We drove home along the eastern coast which afforded picturesque views of the water. It was a fun, interesting day spent with great friends!