Eager foodies try a taste of Samantha Aquim’s (pictured center) Brazilian chocolate. (Photo/Courtesy Ricardo de Mattos)

Move over Hershey: Brazilian chocolate is the next big thing

How much would you pay for a box of chocolates? Ten dollars? Thirty dollars? How about fifteen thousand dollars? That was the exorbitant price that a very special box of chocolates commanded at a recent auction at the London Red Cross Ball, which celebrated Her Majesty the Queen’s recent Diamond Jubilee in England.

Why in the world would chocolate – even the smoothest, most luxurious of chocolates – be valued at thousands upon thousands of dollars? To be clear, the $15,000 box of chocolates wasn’t just any chocolate – it was made from Q-Zero, a category of Brazilian chocolate which was named one of the top chocolates in the world during The Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle in 2012.

This Brazilian chocolate, produced by chocolatier Samantha Aquim using cocoa sourced from the Brazilian state of Bahia, is quickly earning a reputation as the finest the globe over. And it’s a renaissance long in the making – years, in fact, because if there is one ingredient in Brazil that has unequivocally suffered, it is chocolate. Once upon a time, Brazil was the world’s third biggest exporter of cocoa, but during the late 1980’s and early 90’s a deadly fungus called witch’s broom destroyed huge plantations in northern Brazil, nearly wiping out the industry.

But thanks to people like Aquim, Brazilian chocolate is starting to make its presence known on the world stage. Aquim was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro and studied cooking at the Culinary Institute Lenôtre in France, after graduating with a doctoral degree in psychology at PUC University in Rio. A lifelong lover of chocolate, Aquim has acquired a near-scientific knowledge of the cocoa bean thanks to her extensive travels to numerous cocoa farms in Bahia and years of research learning about the engineering process of making exquisite chocolate.

Samantha Aquim prizes herself on creating the finest chocolate in the world, using Brazilian cocoa beans.

Samantha Aquim prizes herself on creating the finest chocolate in the world, using Brazilian cocoa beans.

“It’s one of the best cocoas in the world,” Aquim said at a recent presentation of her chocolate at Sotheby’s in New York City.

And if there’s one thing that the owner of a mini-chain of popular Brazilian chocolate stores takes seriously, it’s cocoa. The chocolate for Aquim’s Q-Zero bars is harvested by hand and locally sourced; she also slow roasts the beans, an exception in an industry where the standard is to roast the beans at high heat. In another departure from industry norms, Aquim also has eliminated the use of vanilla in her finished product, preferring to let the natural sweet notes of the chocolate shine.

And now, with a new store in the rapidly growing metropolitan city of Rio de Janeiro, the 38-year-old chocolatier is able to not only share chocolate with her fellow Brazilians, but with the world, shipping it to substantial sales among foodies and hungry consumers in America, with her truffles stocked at Central Market in Texas and The Meadow gourmet market in in New York and Seattle.

Having tried the chocolate myself, I am confident saying that the experience of eating Q-Zero is like none other, velvety smooth and layered with notes of luscious fruit. But most importantly, its production is a decisive triumph for Brazil as a developing country who once exported its cocoa beans to the lands of Switzerland, France and Belgium, and other countries renowned for its smooth chocolate. Now, thanks to one determined woman, Brazil can now call itself home to one of the world’s most prized varieties.

Leticia Moreinos Schwartz is a Brazilian chef and author of “The Brazilian Kitchen:100 Classic and Contemporary Recipes for the Home Cook.” She lives in Connecticut now but says she’ll always call Rio de Janeiro home.

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