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Kaua‘i chocolate farm featured in (HBO) Max food series

A Kaua‘i cacao farm owner has high hopes for the growth of the chocolate industry in the state after being featured in an episode of Zooey Deschanel’s documentary food series last month.

“We want to change the way the world tastes chocolate one person at a time and one bar at a time,” said Will Lydgate, the owner of Lydgate Farms, in an interview with The Garden Island earlier this week.

The 46-acre cacao farm, located in the Wailua Homesteads, was recently spotlighted in the sixth episode of “What Am I Eating? With Zooey Deschanel,” where Deschanel reveals common misconceptions surrounding a variety of foods.

“What if I told you, you’ve probably never had a single bite of real chocolate,” says Deschanel at the start of the episode. “If you’re anything like me, you’re probably asking what is real chocolate?” she adds, before sending show correspondent Sophia Roe to Kaua‘i to learn about the authentic chocolate-making process.

The episode was shot last summer, but officially debuted for streaming on Max (formerly HBO Max) on May 23, 2023.

During the episode, Lydgate takes Roe through his farm, where he explains the entire procedure — all the way from the initial planting of the cacao trees to the final chocolate bar product. He describes the lengthy process, noting that it takes eight years for a cacao tree to reach full maturity, followed by another six months to make a cacao pod, a one-week fermentation process, two weeks of sun-drying, three months of dry aging, and an additional month to manufacture the beans into chocolate.

“The one thing I wish that was different is that actually, when (Roe) ate the piece of chocolate for the first time, she cried, and they ended up not using that footage,” said Lydgate. “She cried and said she tasted tastes that she didn’t have words for.”

No tears were shed during an extensive chocolate-tasting tour at the farm earlier that day, but visitors speaking to The Garden Island gave high reviews of their experiences.

Aaron Gardner, who was visiting with his family from Dallas, Texas, said he thought the tour was fantastic.

“I learned a lot. Of course, I ate a lot of chocolate, which is a plus always. And it was just an educational great time,” he said.

Aaron Otte and Joseph DeVera, who were visiting from Las Vegas, Nevada, shared similar opinions.

“It helped reinforce my appreciation for chocolate versus candy bars,” Otte said.

“The tour guide was fantastic, very knowledgeable about chocolate and the agriculture,” added DeVera. “Not just about chocolate, but about the environment, the plants, the flora, the fauna,” he said.

That chocolate and farm knowledge was shared by tour guide Henry Edwards, who provided visitors with in-depth information on the cacao trees, the fermentation process, as well as the vanilla, fruits and other tropical plants on the farm.

“I feel it’s a really special place because we all really care about what we’re doing from all the way from planting the seed all the way to wrapping the chocolate here,” said Edwards, who has worked on the farm for two years.

Even though the farm grows and harvests its own cacao, it outsources to Manoa Chocolate Farm, a factory on Oahu, to produce the chocolate bars. Lydgate says he’s working to build his own factory, so the entire process can eventually be completed on-site.

“There’s a lot of planning that goes into that (factory). But that is my next goal. And I’m pretty much spending all my time working on that,” he said.

The farm planted its first trees in 2002 and has grown into a 20-employee operation, with tours and gift shop sales making up a major part of the business.

Lydgate believes chocolate “can be the next big thing for Hawai‘i,” noting that it’s also “the only state in the United States where chocolate trees can grow.”

He compared his goals for his business to the growth of artisanal cheeses, coffee, and the success of the wine industry in Napa Valley.

“We have something here. I think, all of a sudden, everyone’s realizing what’s happening with chocolate,” Lydgate said.

“You know, Gallo jug wine versus Napa Valley Cabernet. That’s what’s happening with chocolate right now. So it’s very exciting. It’s really something Hawaii needs right now. We need a win.”

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Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-652-0638 or egrunwald@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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