Tuesday, 9 October 2018

A Rio Nuevo Runs Through Cornwall

This past weekend was our first weekend home for a few weeks.  We thought about making up for missed trips away during the summer in Miles our campervan, before the weather and darker nights totally caught up with us, but the rain first thing Saturday put us off a bit.  Then there was the fact that The Market was on too and, having missed the last few, we were eager to make sure we got to this fabulous monthly farmers market that is right on our doorstep.  It was decided.  As much as we loved being away in Miles, this weekend we would stay on home turf.

The Market has been running now for just over a year and seems to be growing in popularity each time we go.  It runs on the first Saturday of the month in Crantock Village Hall and aims to bring together the best in Cornish producers, growers, and makers, along with an ever changing rotation of food catering choices.  This is very much a community market with an environmental slant. Although not completely vegan, even in the few times we have managed to go in the last few months, we've noticed an increase in stalls advertising at least some of their wares as vegan; from cupcakes, pizzas and pasties to shampoo and cleaning products.  Each time we have discovered a new stall with new vegan options.  This time was no exception.

As we walked into the smaller of the two halls, Phil made a beeline for a stall selling chocolate.  He can't help it; he is a chocolate terrier and becomes deaf to all else around him when chocolate presents itself.  Meanwhile I was distracted by the smiling greeting of the lady behind the stall and even more so when she said, "You don't recognise me do you?".  I was embarrassed to admit I didn't.  I was in that whirlwind of brain trying to connect the disconnect, and in the unfortunate happenings in my life over the last couple of years, it seems these days my memory is even more fond of letting me down; that and the general effects of age.  Sara graciously reintroduced herself to me as a student where I work.  In fairness Sara graduated some eight years ago and since then I have worked with over 6000 more students!  Once we got talking however, I did remember Sara and was now curious about how she had gone on the journey from a Marine and Natural History Photography graduate to running her own chocolate company.

Her interest in Natural History photography had led naturally on to conservation and Sara went on to study further in this field.  Although now settled in the UK, Sara, originally from Columbia and her husband, Andres from Ecuador, were both interested in working sustainably with communities back home.  It was at their wedding in the rain forest in Ecuador that the pieces of their dream fell together when the locals showed them how to make chocolate.  They dug deeper and were confronted with the struggles that cacao farmers face to make a living whilst trying to keep the non-hybridised varieties financially viable and therefore Ecuador's rich cacao heritage alive.  Direct and fair trade was the way forward and Rio Nuevo handcrafted chocolate was born.

Whilst I had been chatting with Sara, Phil had been working his way through the samples available on the stall and talking chocolate with Andres.  The noises coming out of Phil whilst he listened and tasted were good and when he then bought two bars, I knew it was quality stuff.  You see Phil has become somewhat of a chocolate sommelier and does not suffer chocolate fools gladly.  Chocolate could be as fair trade and right on as you like but if it hasn't got the flavour, texture, mouth feel and general 'je ne sais quoi', you won't make the Official Certifiable Phil Chocolate Grade of Excellence (or 'addiction' as I call it).  

All of Rio Nuevo's chocolate bars are vegan friendly and clearly marked as such.  Single estate Arriba Nacional cacao beans are used in all their bars and are bought and imported directly from their farmers in Vinces, Ecuador, thus ensuring that all the money goes towards supporting the livelihoods, communities and environment concerned, along with the viability of this non hybridised cacao bean.  It's a win-win-win situation.  The supplier wins, the producer wins and the customer gets great tasting chocolate!  

The six bars Rio Nuevo currently produce include three plain bars (ranging from 60% to 80%) and three flavoured bars (peanut, cinnamon and brandy).  The two plain bars that Phil bought quickly disappeared whilst I am still savouring the cinnamon one that Sara kindly gave me (the fact that it still exists is due to my hiding skills as any quality chocolate left in full view of the sommelier is quickly 'sampled' by him!).  

200x46Whilst the Rio Nuevo is springing forth from their base in Falmouth, I think we will be seeing more of them in the future.  They have ambitious plans and, with their passion and enthusiasm for quality, sustainability and community support, I am sure that their new river will swell to Amazonian proportions in the not too distant future.  If you don't catch them at a local market in Cornwall, you can buy direct from their website as well as find out more about their story.  

Sara didn't know we were going to write a blogpost about Rio Nuevo.  I hope she now forgives me for not remembering her from all those years ago!

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