Posted in Kafevend Blog
Today's article is a look at Willie's Cacao, a recent venture headed up by the entrepreneurial chocolate fanatic and company namesake William "Willie" Harcourt-Cooze.
William was born to a Burmese father, who had left the country during WW2, and an Irish mother. Together with his parents and four sisters, William lived on Horse Island in Southern Ireland from the age of four, after his father purchased it whilst on holiday. There they became self sufficient, doing things like fishing, farming, and making cheese. This do-it-yourself attitude put William in good stead for later in life when he pursued his desire to make chocolate.
On the northern coast of Venezuela lays the village of Choroni, surrounded by mountainous terrain that plunges down into the sea. The band of mountains between Choroni and the city of Maracay 30km to the south contain the Henri Pittier National Park, named after a Swiss geographer and botanist. Arriving in Venezuela in 1917, he spent many years studying the flora and fauna in the country and classified some 30,000 plants. A little further east along the coast from Choroni lays the village of Chuao, which is held in high regard for the top quality cacao that is grown there.
It was whilst travelling in Choroni with his wife Tania in 1993 that William met an umbrella salesman, who told them about a hacienda for sale nearby. Located in the cloud forest sprawled across the mountains within the national park, the locale of Hacienda El Tesoro had an immediate effect on William, who offered to buy the estate. Though the owner changed his mind about selling, three years later William was contacted by the owner who had finally decided to sell the place, and wondered if he still wanted to buy it. William said yes, and selling his flat in London, found himself in possession of a 1,000 acre cacao estate in Venezuela.
After arriving William planted an additional 10,000 cacao trees across the estate, though there are now around 20,000 in total, producing the high quality and highly valued criollo bean. With his introduction into the world of making chocolate by his farm managers Bertillio and Ricardo, William took his newfound knowledge back to England and started a factory in Devon. All except one of the machines used in the factory are older, smaller scale antique pieces he has gathered from across Europe and repaired, using knowledge from his time spent fixing engines and other contraptions with his father.
Whilst you can find Willie's Cacao in various brick and mortar stores, buying online is worth a go if only to appreciate the somewhat Pythonesque visuals. As well as the online shop you can find a wealth of information that combines the history of the company with the chocolate making process, as well as a canned history of cacao itself. On offer from the store is a top notch selection of chocolate. Alongside a variety of eating chocolates are several cylindrical blocks of 100% cacao, the first product made by William, designed for use in cooking. Like current trends in coffee, several of the chocolate bars on offer feature beans from a single origin. If your mouth's watering already and you can't stomach the delivery wait, get yourself to the chocolate shelf in your nearest Waitrose!