Katrina Markoff, founder of Chicago chocolatier Vosges Haut-Chocolat, is opening an education center at a cacao plantation in Belize.
Katrina Markoff, the founder of high-end Chicago chocolatier Vosges Haut-Chocolat, is nearing completion on two high-profile projects: a winery-style chocolate facility in Logan Square and an education center at a cacao plantation and eco-lodge in Belize.
Markoff isn't ready to talk about the Logan Square project, her spokeswoman said. But in an interview last week, she said she hopes the Belcampo farm in Belize will become the source of a majority of Vosges' cacao once its plants mature.
The project means Markoff will soon play a role in every aspect of production from seed selection through packaging without having to assume the financial risk of owning a tropical plantation.
Belcampo Group CEO Anya Fernald said the education center that Markoff helped design will open in mid-December, and Markoff will teach her first "master class" on cacao to guests at the 12-room lodge April 23-27. In exchange for her time and expertise, Markoff will receive a better price on the beans.
"I've always wanted to be involved through the full vertical, from actually growing the varietals of cacao I want, and being particular about how they're grown and harvested and fermented and dried," she said.
Once the farm reaches full yield in about five years, Fernald estimated it will produce 250,000 pounds of cacao annually. Already, with only 60 acres planted so far — all under a rain forest canopy — Fernald said Belcampo is already Belize's largest cacao plantation.
"The integrity of that project is really, really unique and special," Markoff said. "Typically when people buy beans to make chocolate, they just buy whatever is available in the commodity market. There's not a lot of control over how it's grafted, where it's planted, how it's nurtured, who's taking care of it. You just don't get that kind of control."