Meet: Melanie Boudar, Hawaii-based chocolatier
Meet Melanie, Hawaiian based chocolatier. Photo - Robin Powell
Hawaii-based chocolatier Melanie Boudar is going one better than making bean-to-bar chocolate – she’s growing the beans! It’s one way to preserve fine flavour cacao, which is threatened by commercial hybridisation.
When did your love of chocolate begin?
I became addicted to chocolate when working as a diamond buyer in Belgium. I worked for 30 years in the jewellery business, the last part of that in Honolulu, but when the company I worked for was sold, I decided to make a change. I set up a bed and breakfast on Hawaii’s Big Island and started mucking around in the kitchen making chocolate as gifts for my guests. When I wanted to find out more I went to the New York Culinary Institute, the Ecole Chocolat in Canada, and the Callebaut Academy and then I travelled to Ecuador and Peru, Mexico and Venezuela to see how chocolate is grown.
You ended up with a shop in Maui and a reputation as one Hawaii’s finest chocolatiers. So why a farm?
I always had a dream of having a farm, so when the opportunity came up here in Maui… I have plans for a tasting room and a chocolate museum here, as well as a production facility.
Are there many cacao farms in Hawaii?
Hawaii is the only state in the US that can grow cacao. We are 20 degrees north of the equator and that’s the north pole of chocolate. The cold temperature makes for richer, fattier beans, with high cocoa butter content. In Hawaii there are less than 100 acres in production. It’s early days, like the early days of the wine industry in Napa. I believe there’s the potential for Hawaii to be the Napa Valley of chocolate.
Cacao grows only up to 20º north or south of the equator. Photo - Robin Powell
Are there many different varieties of cacao?
There are, and because it doesn’t grow true to seed, there are increasing numbers of them. At the same time, commercial hybridisation programs have sought to maximise the yield of the beans, without worrying about the flavour.
Doesn’t that sound familiar!
It’s a common story: flavour loses out to commercial pressures. Fine flavour cacao is threatened for this reason. The Fine Chocolate Association has set up the Heirloom Chocolate Project to identify and protect varieties of cacao that have great flavour as well as historic, cultural, botanical and geographic uniqueness. Last year was the first year that it awarded heirloom status and one of the four awards given was to a Hawaiian bean.
New cacao seedlings ready to be planted out. Photo - Robin Powell
You do guided tastings of chocolate from around the world at the farm. Do your tasters identify a Hawaiian flavour profile of chocolate?
Yes, we think there is a fruitiness that is unique to Hawaiian cacao.
As well as the cacao you grow here, there are other plants.
My aim is not to import anything, so we grow all the ingredients for the chocolates – cinnamon, vanilla, passionfruit, yuzu, green tea.
It all sounds like a long way from the diamond business.
In fact there are lots of similarities between making chocolates and making jewellery. In both you work with raw ingredients to make something beautiful; and both are businesses that are about making people happy. Though when it comes to making people happy, chocolate is in a class of its own!