Connecting the Pieces of the Cacao Story

In the attempt to blend the flavors of Colorado with the traditions of Mexico, Fortuna Chocolate co-founder Sienna Trapp-Bowie came to a sweet conclusion.

“It was cacao,” Sienna recalled, in a talk with Slow Food earlier this month. “It’s an incredible emblem of the status of where we are as humanity. You can address and discuss and engage with so many topics.” International trade, labor, food systems and trade food artisans stand out among the bunch. “There are so many different pieces to the story of cacao.”

Run entirely out of a 26-foot truck, the Boulder-based chocolate factory focuses on creating high-quality chocolate that represents both Sienna and her brother Spencer Bowie’s Boulder roots, as well as the Mexican heritage of her husband, Aldo Ramirez Carrasco.

“Cacao is so relevant to both of our cultures,” Sienna explained. “So we wanted to incorporate both cultures into it authentically.”

After attending a special dinner at Comal during Slow Food Nations last year, Sienna was able to connect with Slow Food Mexico and begin working with their Slow producers in Chontalpa, an area Fortuna has sourced from in the past where cacao production has been an integral part of the culture for centuries. Chontalpa is one of more than 500 Slow Food Presidias intended to protect unique regions, quality production, and traditional processing methods. Fortuna will be bridging the gap between Mexico and Denver this summer as they debut their first chocolate slabs made from Chontalpa cacao in collaboration with Slow Food Mexico at Slow Food Nations.

Fortuna also collaborates with a series of other small cacao producers across southern Mexico, including 20 families in Oaxaca, who use traditional harvesting methods and practices to develop complex and distinct flavor profiles with every bean.

“Small scale producers are able to customize based on the natural environment,” said Sienna, regarding the loss of individuality that comes with larger processing plants. “This allows the artistry of each farmer to express itself.”

In Chontalpa, the surrounding coconut, avocado, and mango trees provide the necessary shade to keep the cacao from becoming bitter. The creativity emerges through the roasting process, which typically lasts one or two days. It’s here that the smallest differences — the length of time the beans are in the grinder, whether they’re covered or uncovered during roasting — determine how flat or full the flavor is.

“This chocolate has open floral and citrus aromas,” described Sienna. “It lends itself to solid chocolate to use as a base, for chefs to continue the process.”

The Fortuna team also works with botanic gardens and conservatories across Colorado to incorporate local plants and herbs, such as lavender, mint, and raspberries, into their chocolate slabs. The chocolate is currently available in the market of Denver’s Mercantile – a unique dining experience headed by Chef Alex Seidel, who has been a longtime supporter of Sienna and the entire Fortuna family. Their first storefront is set to open in Boulder in July in collaboration with Chef Kelly Whitaker, with the hope for expansion to Denver in the fall.

Written for Slow Food USA in promotion of annual Slow Food Nations event: