The tenth annual Chocolate Festival of Belize will be held on the weekend of Friday 20 May-Sunday, 22 May. This year the gala opening Wine and Chocolate evening will be held at The Lodge at Big Falls. Music will be provided by the Garifuna Collective and six local chocolatiers will be offering samples of their products to guests.
It is $60 per person for the entrance fee for the Wine and Chocolate evening.
Cacao is more than chocolate; it is a way of life for many Maya families in the southern district of Toledo. The cultivation and processing of cacao is a family tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation, often with little changes made to the ancient practice.
In honor of this exquisite pod of powerful flavor, the first Toledo Cacao Festival was held in 2007 in Punta Gorda Town, and a few years ago its name was changed to the Chocolate Festival of Belize. It is celebrated each year on the same Commonwealth Day weekend, which this year falls over the weekend of May 20th. This delicious festival grows larger each year and attracts hundreds of visitors from around Belize as well as overseas.
Guests enjoy a night of socializing while sampling a wide variety of chocolate delicacies along with gourmet wines. Lively music sets the stage for a great night of indulging and dancing off some of those chocolate calories! This year Belizean boutique chocolate makers – Kakaw, Goss Chocolate, Cotton Tree Chocolate, and Ixcacao will be showcasing their amazing chocolates. Have you ever tried chocolate with bacon? Or better yet, chocolate laced with habanero pepper? Oh, so many to choose from…just say no to the diet!
The following day is the Taste of Toledo street fair, held on Front Street in Punta Gorda town which is closed to traffic during the fair. Cultural displays and areas showcasing Toledo’s five main ethnic groups: Kriol, Maya, Garifuna, Mestizo and East Indian are featured at the event.
Attendees are immersed within the art, food and music from each culture. With a bounty of booths to explore, shopping for local crafts and unique products are many. Some of my favorite items include cacao-based body care products, lotions, bath scrubs and soaps. Other booths vary from demonstrating the lengthy process cacao goes through before it’s a chocolate bar to impressive local non-profits such as the Drums Not Guns program that mentors young children through the art of drumming.
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Chocolatiers Descend on Punta Gorda for Annual Festival
It started as the annual Cacao Festival, but over the weekend, the tenth edition of the event surrounding chocolate was held in the southernmost town of Punta Gorda. The three-day event is organized by the Toledo Chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association and the Toledo Cacao Growers Association and was officially opened last Friday night with the wine and chocolate gala held at the Lodge at Big Falls. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
Milk chocolates, mint chocolates, dark chocolates; even chocolate scrubs, lotions and beverages….it was a celebration, a typically sweet and usually brown food over the weekend, as chocolatiers converged in Punta Gorda for the tenth annual Chocolate Festival.
Stephanie Parham, B.T.I.A. Toledo Chapter
“We started at ten o’clock this morning, but today really showcases what our local entrepreneurs have to offer in crafts and foods; it emphasizes on what the people here has to offer. A lot of us don’t believe that we have it here because it’s like Belize is so small in Central America, but people from Europe and the U.S.A…all over the world come for this chocolate festival.”
Chocolate – it comes from the cacao plant, which is grown in southern Belize and used to make many other products. The bean is roasted, ground and made in the form of a liquid, paste, or in a block and is used as a flavoring ingredient in many products. Cocoa & Company from San Ignacio makes natural body products and some consumables that are mostly chocolate based. Annually, they would represent the west at the festival that Jamie Vega says is “the claim to fame for chocolate.”
Jamie Vega, Cocoa & Company
“We started to use chocolate because it is one of those underused things here in Belize. People are getting to know about it, but chocolate is more than just a chocolate bar. The stuff that we make for body and face is luscious. It smells like something that you can eat—it is not necessarily something that you want to eat—but it leaves you feeling rich and there is much other uses for chocolate and for other products. We use honey, we use raw honey, we use virgin coconut oil, we try to use anything that we can get here, even the coffee is from here. The people here at the festival are great; people are up and down trying new things. They are always look at our body products; we have chocolate tea for them to try and a chocolate kahlua drink for them to try; everyone is out here to try something new so if anyone has chocolate products, this is the place to be.”
The festival provided budding entrepreneur eighteen-year-old Indira Andrewin with an opportunity to showcase how chocolate can be incorporated into healthy living. Coco Love combines yoga, massage and skincare and massage and yoga sessions were available on location.
Indira Andrewin, Coco Love
“All the products are local, pure and live products made in Belize and they are all natural. I have citrus bliss—what comes from Stann Creek—and I have the chocolate and the chocolate mint…a whole bunch of chocolate products and some other ones. It’s been good….a lot of local support. I haven’t been promoting it that much, but I’ve been getting a lot of feedback and business.”
Some of the most decadent, consumable, chocolate products made in Belize are available in stores across the country. Those more established chocolatiers, such as Che’il Mayan Chocolate, are primarily from the south. At the Belize Trade and Investment Development Service Booth, Julio Saqui says that the love for chocolate is in their products.
Julio Saqui, Owner, Che’il Mayan Chocolate
“Last night at the wine and chocolate fest, we gave out almost all of our samples that we brought. Even just the new product that we have, the chocolate liqueur, is flying like crazy and this is the only bottle that we have left from last night supplies. We had about eighteen bottles and all is sold. This is the newest product and it is equivalent to Bailey’s and it works just like it so it is even better.”
The festival is an income generator for the community and helps in creating networking for local entrepreneurs. According to B.T.I.A.’s Stephanie Parham, Monies collected from the event are used to fund local projects.
“These funds are used to cover other expenses for the Saturday and Sunday also we use those funds to put it back into the community, to help with the dance groups and their cultural clothing and stuff like that. So we try to reach out to our local people here and we try to accommodate them with our funds.”
“Networking is very crucial. In any successful business, you have to have a network frame. If you don’t, you’re not going to be successful. So yesterday we’ve met very interesting people that are interested in buying our products and importing it into the United States and today, we met another one that wants to buy and import it into Canada. Events like these are a wonderful exposure for us and also for the potential people to make business with to come and meet in one location. As you can see we have a lot of chocolatiers here and they are sourcing for new business and we are looking for new partners and this is one event for us to do just that.”
Aside from local performances and stage competitions, the annual cook-off featuring local cuisine was held on Saturday. Duane Moody for News Five.