While a little under the weather in Arequipa, and Tim away on his Colca Canyon hike, I decided to stroll around the beautiful colonial town of Arequipa and find something to occupy my time. On one of the main roads heading down to the main plaza/square I stumbled passed “cooking with cacao – make your own chocolate!” Considering chocolate is one of my favourite things and I was in the capital of the superfood continent I booked in for a class that afternoon!!
Luckily, the class was just me and one other girl! With a semi-private tour we dived straight into our class with our teacher. Aprons on, our teacher explained to us that he was a gastronomic masters in his studies and also a chef. He has studied food all over the world, and now has returned home to Peru, to chef at one of the best restaurants in Arequipa.
Our teacher explained to us the history of cacao, through Mayan and Aztec culture. But this was no boring history class – he was so enthusiastic, and full of energy you couldn’t help get excited about chocolate as well. While learning about the history of cacao, we sampled how the ancient cultures used to use it (cacao beans were used as currency!!) and drink it – the Mayan cacao mix, only drunk by the prestigious and gods was cacao mixed with panela sugar, hot water, and chilli – a spicy, energising hit.
Not being a spicy fan it wasn’t to my taste. Considering though that this was all made by hand by de-skinning, grinding and melting the cacao butter, it was definitely impressive for ancient times.
We then learnt about the health benefits of cacao and why it’s basically one of the best in the world. I could ramble on about antioxidants and aphrodisiacs, but basically after 5 minutes all of us were rubbing 100% pure cacao butter all over our bodies, faces and hands (free beauty treatment anyone?).
Moving more into the history (which I found fascinating) we learned of how chocolate made it to the rest of the world. This movement occurred through the Spanish invasion of the Central and South America which then allowed it to be taken back to Europe. Here things got really interesting! The Spanish added sugar to the cacao to make it less bitter and more sweet (hence the beginning of addiction). The Swiss and Belgian took the cacao and created their style of chocolate by adding fresh full cream milk, straight from the alps to create milk chocolate. The French were envious of their neighbours, so they took cacao and created praline. And lastly, the Italians came along and created the ultimate hazelnut/cacao combo – NUTELLA!!! All this was super interesting and was taught to us whilst we sipped on some hot cacao tea (amazing and 100% guilt free).
We finished our history lesson on modern day chocolate, and how unfortunately cacao isn’t as sacred as it once was. Companies such as Nestle, Hershey and Cadbury have unfortunately ruined the REAL chocolate by adding unfathomable amounts of white sugar, artificial flavours, and horrible powered milks to their ‘chocolate bars’ that contain less than 5% real cacao. Sorry Snickers & Kit-Kat, but I’m now officially a chocolate snob.
Updated and totally in love with this magic bean, the moment of truth was here, COOKING TIME! We headed downstairs into the cooking space where ALL of their chocolate made is sold on premises. We were lucky to have a 70% cacao that was being cooked that day so our 12 individual truffles were going to be 70% dark chocolate, perfect!
We got to select 12 different and creative fillings for our chocolates which was awesome! The selection was so versatile from your standard raisins, almond, and peanuts, to coconut, coca leaf powder, banana, and of course another superfoods, quinoa. It was super fun filling our trays and after we got to lick our bowls (and hands) of the delicious melted chocolate.
While our truffles were setting in the fridge, we headed back to the classroom and started our sampling. We were given a test to guess what percentage of cacao was contained in each of the 7 samples. The favourites were the white chocolate, 70% dark and the 50% milk.
After almost feeling sick from too much chocolate (is there such a thing?), the timer went off and our truffles were ready to be bagged! Wrapped up in a cute package and ready to take home, that concluded our chocolate making class that went for over 3 hours.
Classes are held twice a day once around 10am and 3pm, and they last for over three hours. We highly recommend booking in advance, and the afternoon class is also less busy. This place also has a great rooftop cafe coffee bar so if you’re keen to just get a decent Peruvian coffee in Arequipa and chill in the sun (and to maybe indulge in a fresh brownie or cacao smoothie too), this is the place. The class cost me $____ Peruvian, which at the time was expensive on my travel budget but in reality, was only around $20 AUD for an absurd amount of the BEST quality chocolate and cacao in probably, I wouldn’t hesitate to say, the world!