Cacao Prieto

Founded: 2010
Headquarters: Brooklyn, NY
Style: New School
Characteristics: in development
Ferment: dripping
Roast: medium-lo
Conche: generally light to no conching
Impact: What Tcho (for Tech Chocolate) dreams, Cacao Prieto (the name a pun off the Spanish word for ‘dark’) may realize; & what Mars takes credit for, Prieto’s strategic partners — the geneticist couple Mark Guiltinan & Siela Maximova (Hershey’s affiliates at Penn State University) — are equally responsible for. Altogether this team plans to operate beyond current vertical-integration models for chocolate.In their quest for a virtuous circle, Prieto conceives of Theobroma cacao as a holistic organism. It climbs up-tree, daring to transform this entire botanical into a bio-reactor, hoping to utilize its multitudinous parts & innumerable permutations… every shred, component, compound & atom into some application: seeds for bean-to-bar chocolate; husks & pods for compost; a distillery from pulp-sweatings into alcoholic drafts; cocoa buttercosmetics & the cacáo’s storehouse of phyto-nutrients (flavonals, polymers, lipids, et al) patented into pharmaceuticals via its research division Cacao Biotechnologies.More is on the horizon: identifying & developing varietals (a supposed dozen & counting) in situ on some 500 hectares on Coralina Estate in the Nagua district of The Dominican Republicwhere the company’s principle, Daniel Preston, likes to trace his family roots back to 1899.The resumé he carries around lists a former aeronautical engineer for defense contractors & NASA. The D.R. serves as home base for his global lab designed to include accessions properly labeled, then transferring specimens & isolating their genetic markers for the creation of clones that bear specific traits & intent, be they fine-flavor or natural medicine (seeking to redefine GMO in the process as something like Good Motives Optimized). Here’s to hoping.

Dried cocoa beans are then transported & crafted in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn USA. The facility there, with its Dutch boardinghouse architecture, is almost imbued with the spirit of the Menier’s wrought-iron cathedral of chocolate built in the 19th century — & with whom Prieto professes to share an enlightened approach.

At least based on appearances, it demonstrates a respect for chocolate’s legacy, as a custodian of the growing importance among the cacáo groves in D.R., & the showcasing of vintage equipment from Scharffen-Berger’s abandoned factory in Berkeley, CA (dismantled, crated, & shipped to the East Coast)  – both refurbished at considerable costs.

Ironically, its interior fenestrated-walls that, on the face of it, stand for transparency, in fact display very little… they’re almost literal window-dressing. They only reinforce that the advanced work remains hidden from view, behind the scenes, tucked far away… in a university science lab or an even more remote location on an island in the Caribbean.

Shielded or not, the future of cacáo can nonetheless be gleaned, in conception if nothing else.

Because nothing like it exists in its extensive & comprehensive vision. It heralds the 4th & possibly final phase of chocolate history in the West*: the Science of Chocolate (even as it fails to entertain the single-most basic advancement the industry needs: mechanizing cacáo orchards & its post-harvesting methods).

* The previous 3: a) Discovery (1502 to circa1827); b) Industrialization (1828-1983); c) Artisanal (1984-2012?)

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