European chocolatiers shower praise on Peru cocoa

Fri Jul 9, 2010 6:37pm EDT
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By Emily Schmall

LIMA (Reuters) - European buyers say cocoa producers in Peru could successfully follow in the footsteps of the country's coffee growers, who have turned the Andean country into the world's largest exporter of organic coffee beans.

It is already the world's second-largest producer of organic cocoa, yet so far Peru's exports have lagged behind leading countries such as the Ivory Coast, Indonesia and Brazil.

Peru wants to do for its cocoa what Colombia did for coffee with its globally-recognized image of Juan Valdez. Peru can't compete on quantity but hopes to compete in specialty markets with a distinctive brand of its own.

"Like wine in France, beer in Germany and tequila in Mexico, Peru should be known for its cocoa," said Astrid Gutsche, a pastry chef and spouse of Gaston Acurio, one of the country's top chefs, with restaurants from California to Argentina.

In Peru, growers hope to carve out a niche with high-quality dark chocolate candy bars, chocolate sushi and elaborate sculptures crafted out of the sweet stuff to put in shop windows.

"In terms of modeling, cocoa is virgin territory," said Marines Justiniano, a pastry chef who led an eight-person crew to build a replica of Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city, out of 250 lbs of Peruvian cocoa.

With just 30,000 cocoa-growing families, Peru's output is dwarfed by West Africa, which produces two-thirds of global supply.

"We are on the path to recognition of a national chocolate," Victor Manuel Noriega, a director in Peru's agriculture ministry, said at a cocoa convention on Friday in Lima that group together exporters, European confectioners and chocolate somelliers.   Continued...

<p>Peruvian Chef Marines Justiniano shows a replica of Incan citadel Machu Picchu, made out of 250 pounds of Peruvian cocoa, during a chocolate convention in Lima July 9, 2010. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo</p>