A land of spectacular wildlife and stunning views, Venezuela takes a spot on the list of the world’s 17 most megadiverse countries. Home to one of the oldest lakes in the world, and the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfalls, Venezuela is a beauty to behold.
If you did not know already it is also the world’s top producer of oil. But despite all of its rich natural resources, the country has been experiencing economic distress for more than a decade. Hyperinflation, poverty, violence and crippling product shortages have affected the people’s development and quality of life.
One individual that has experienced all the highs and the lows that Venezuela has to offer, is Tom Williams- founder of Chocolates Dalila, and this is his story.
Tom’s Tryst With Venezuela And The Birth Of Chocolates Dalila
It all started when Tom visited Venezuela in 1999. Travelling across the beautiful country honing his Spanish, it was also where he met his wife, Vicdaly. Their attachment with the country made them want to design a business that would contribute towards its economic growth.
Now the Venezuelan mountains are blooming with rich cacao plantations that are known for the much sought after Criollo beans, among others. Deciding what business to pursue was the easy part, says Tom. After planning to source raw cacao from Venezuela, which was in itself a learning curve, Tom and his wife went on to learn chocolate-making so they could design their very own small-scale handmade craft chocolate.
We talked to the makers of Chocolates Dalila, named after Vicadaly’s mother, to know more of their experiences in bringing bean to bar Venezuelan chocolate to Texas and this is what they had to say:
How would you describe the whole journey, starting from sourcing good cacao beans, to making a good bar of chocolate?
To say that it was a learning curve would be an understatement! When we thought of developing a bean to bar chocolate, we had no idea that this industry actually existed! Incidentally, it was also the first time that we were even tasting one. As fate would have it the beans were exceptionally good, and the chocolate was quite unlike any chocolate that I had had till that point in life.
We invested the first couple of months learning about good producers and suppliers of raw cacao in Venezuela. We also did a lot of hands-on learning of how to make chocolate. I remember it took us forever to get tempering down perfectly, to the point that we had almost considered giving up! But I’m so glad that we kept going because the craft chocolate industry has immense potential to make positive impact in the cacao farming communities around the world. Premium quality cacao is much desired, with people willing to pay exceptional prices for it.
Now that we know the story of how Chocolates Dalila came to be, we are tempted to know more about what it has to offer!
Since we strictly sell at the Tomball Farmer’s market, our product focus is seasonal. During the hot months, we concentrate on our chocolate nut-butter spreads, but we still carry some bars in a small cooler.
In the cold months, it is the exact opposite; we sell basically no spreads and all chocolate bars.
We are pretty much purist when it comes to bars and don’t offer many inclusion bars, because pure dark chocolate is the only way you can really experience the unique flavor notes from the cacao! So, we mostly sell 70% & 80% chocolate bars but also offer a 70% bar with roasted nibs on the back and a dark milk chocolate bar.
The nibs sold separately are available all year around. They are used basically the same as chocolate chips, but the advantage is that they have nothing added so it is very pure with no sugar. Our customers typically use them on yogurt, in homemade granola, or in smoothies to add a healthy chocolate flavor.
The other day, we were discussing chocolate hazelnut spreads, and we noticed that many well-known market brands amp up on the sugar and the vegetable oils. How does Maracaibo Mud chocolate hazelnut spread differ in this regard?
The Maracaibo Mud is named after the area of Venezuela our beans come from. The ingredients are Hazelnut (45%), Cacao solids and fats (30%), Cane sugar (22%), Hazelnut oil and Salt. The spread is exceptionally smooth and has a drizzle-like consistency because we stone grind it in our mélanger for at least 24 hours. The Maracaibo mud is ways better than the leading spreads out there, that advertise themselves as health foods.
What would you say is the USP of Chocolates Dalila?
Well, the main feature of our chocolate is that that we use fine flavored cacao beans that have been grown for quality instead of quantity. Therefore, the flavor is so much better compared to chocolate that uses commodity beans where the focus is low price and high quantity. This undeniably results in very poor-quality beans.
We genuinely believe chocolate can make any situation better. Can you recollect some memorable instances of when Chocolates Dalila made some body’s day?
We had a regular customer tell us that we have turned her into a chocolate snob because she can no longer enjoy the bars at your typical grocery store that are marketed as fine chocolate!
During the cool months, we offer sampling at our tent and seeing the smiles on people’s faces after tasting craft chocolate for the first time is always rewarding. They actually can’t believe the difference in quality and taste. Those are the memories that stick out the most from the Tomball Farmer’s Market.
We learn that you are back at the farmers market from this month on wards, how has it been there?
The market is going much better than expected. It was a big concern for sure. Tomball is a great community and is extremely supportive of the farmers. Shopping outdoors is actually safer than going to a grocery store during these times.
Your efforts in trying to bring about a positive change for Venezuelans are commendable. No matter how small, a step in the right direction always paves the way for a bright future.
Yes, you are right. Our economic impact is extremely small given the size of our business. But we are very proud of what we have accomplished through outreach and the lives we have affected.
To name a couple of projects, we sponsor a youth soccer program in Venezuela for which we provide new uniforms, soccer balls, and other equipment. There is also a youth program at a church where we were able to sponsor enough school supplies for 90 kids. We really enjoy projects that give children the tools they need to be successful in the long term.
Finally, what are your aspirations for Chocolates Dalila in the time to come?
In the short term, starting October, we have plans to start offering classes through Zoom for teaching various craft chocolate classes. We are also looking into collaborating with other businesses to develop cooking classes that involve chocolate that we can teach online. Eventually, we wish to cultivate cacao and make couverture chocolate in Venezuela for export to chocolate makers, chocolatiers, and bakers around the world.
If you aren’t salivating already, check out our listing on Chocolates Dalila and like their motto, “Let’s make the world a little better one bar at a time”.