Latin American tour August 2008 – Day 18 – Panama, Orlando Lozada’s farm

We spent the morning looking around the mainland town of Almirante, after taking a boat from Hotel Angela. Later after an hour on a bus we were given a lift through what seemed like miles of banana plantations, finally arriving at the farm and family home of Orlando Lozada, the cacao farmer who has been supplying Margaret Ann and Henri Escudero at La Loma with beans that eventually end up as chocolate finished by Bill McCarrick back in the UK.

Orlando and family live in a very traditional wood built farm house, which is over one hundred years old. The main living area is on stilts about one storey above the ground. Most of the floor is open to the elements, including the living and dining areas and the stove. Power comes from a generator, which Orlando starts up at night to power lights and the TV.

Below the main floor, right under the living area, are two large pull out trays running on rails, on which maize is dried and cacao fermented and dried.

This is certainly not city living, but as cacao farmers go, the Lozadas are prospering. Next door to the old farmhouse, an impressive new, larger, wooden building is well on the way to completion. Orlando has already used this space for hosting conferences for visiting development agencies – I’m guessing interested in the impressive cacao yields Orlando is achieving. The unfinished attic level of the new building was being used for drying cacao during our visit. When the new house is finished enough for the Lozadas to move into, the old house will be preserved and used for visitors and conferences – a very beautiful, authentic setting.

Once we were settled, Orlando took us down the hill into the plantation area, which sits in a hollow below the house, with a river behind. This apparently creates a very good micro climate for growing cacao, which was born out by the large number of pods present on many trees, even though the next harvest season is still a month or so away.

There’s a real mix of varieties here. Orlando has introduced and planted many varieties normally found in the Panama mix and from outside. These are all carefully labelled and Orlando keeps track of which variety is planted where, though as they are all in close proximity there’s inevitably a high amount of cross-pollenisation between trees.

We saw whole range of cacao, from gnarly criollo shaped green pods, through to red/purple trinitarios, green/red mixed types and some yellow forasteros. Most often, we saw bright orange pods hanging like lanterns in a John Singer Sargent painting.

The flavour profile of these beans is going to be very mixed, with a compromise fermentation time required. The only hope is to develop a distinct ‘terrior’ type flavour – similar to what happens at Chuao – rather than based on a dominant or related range of varieties. The productivity is impressive though, as is Orlando’s desire to develop and improve, so I think we could see some great results from this farm in the future.

A few happy hours passed among the cacao trees, then we repaired to the farmhouse for dinner before lights out.

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