On Tuesday January 20th , long term Balinese resident Giuseppe Verdacchi, known to his friends as Pepe, will be talking about his Bali chocolate project at the Rio Helmi Gallery and Café in Ubud.
Pepe, who started Primo Chocolate four years ago, has had a long involvement with the cocoa industry here in Bali. For this passionate and articulate Italian gentleman from Rome, architect by training, married for 17 years to his Balinese wife Komang Jati with whom he has two children, it’s not necessarily about the money.
“Though I started this business only four years ago, this story started about 15 years ago. I was one of the founders of the Seminyak Rotary Club. The
club had great projects that really helped individuals – cataract operations etc – but I wanted to try and do something that would kickstart a real change for an entire community.
“I knew that in the ‘80s the government had helped establish some 7000 hectares of cocoa plantation, but then had basically left the farmers to their own devices. So I suggested we adopt a banjar (hamlet community) in one of those areas, teach them how to make chocolate by hand (a real matter of patience!) so they could make it and sell it themselves as a cottage industry product. Unfortunately after a while the program got dropped; there was no support from the government.
“But I continued to follow the story of the farmers and saw they had no idea how to market it, so four years ago I thought to myself “Why don’t you make chocolate?” and started researching the possibilities on Bali as a whole. How could we establish a relationship with farmers, work with them? From there we slowly improved the quality of the product they were giving us, with help from the Yayasan Kalimajari and with the help of USAID too. It’s still a work in progress.
“Our relationship with the farmers is based on the simple consideration that the farmers need to receive a revenue for their work which is sufficient to guarantee them a dignified life. For this reason we pay for the beans an average of 50% more then the international market price. We can also have long relationship with the farmers, so we can always guarantee a very high quality standard.
“There is no hope of any economic relationship to succeed, in my books at least, if dignity is not the prime motivator of the dealings. Of course if I make some more income that’s good, but it’s not mainly about that. The farmers appreciate me because they feel appreciated. I pushed them to improve, they give me much better product now and they are doing better economically from it. Now one of the farmers has succeeded in sending his son to university to do an agricultural degree, all of which gives me hope.”
Primo creates single origin chocolates, from seasonal cocoa beans sourced personally in the mountain plantations of Bali, where the farmers who cooperate with Primo grow the cocoa using organic methods. All the ingredients they use for flavoring the chocolate are fresh; Primo does not use any essence.
Pepe continues: “Primo chocolate is inspired by the centuries-old tradition of cold pressed chocolate, made using only crushed cocoa beans of the highest quality. The cocoa beans are not roasted but slowly dried at low temperature; the beans are then ground with stone grinders at a slow pace (for up to 80 hours using equipment designed by me and made in Bali) in order to keep the temperature of the paste as low as possible, thus preserving the complexity of the cocoa aroma and taste.
“Many well known pastry chefs or chocolatiers such as Javier Guilleme, Nuno Garcia, Salgado and Will Goldfarb use or have tested our chocolate with very positive comments,” Pepe adds with a touch of justifiable pride.
All photos courtesy Giuseppe Verdacchi/ Primo Chocolates
Pepe’s talk will be at 6pm on January 20th at Rio Helmi Gallery and Café, Jalan Suweta no 6b
(up from the Palace on the Ubud main street crossroads, opposite the market)
There will be a sampling of Primo’s chocolates (and breads).