From Peru to Peterborough ‘Bean-to-bar’ chocolate shop opens

PETERBOROUGH – According to The Ultimate Chocolate Blog, which lists, state by state, businesses that make chocolate from “bean to bar,” New Hampshire has no such craft chocolate makers, although the blog does note they are “popping up weekly.”

And last Friday evening one popped up on Main Street in Peterborough where a young woman named Neely Cohen had a grand opening for Vicuna Chocolate.

“Bean to bar” means that Cohen and other chocolate makers import the cacao beans, then roast them, crack and winnow them, grind them into chocolate, then mold and package.

Cohen is trained as a pastry chef and said she had always wondered where chocolate came from and how it is made. For her undergraduate thesis Cohen wrote a 90-page paper on the ethnobotony of the cacoa tree (ethnobotanists aim to document, describe and explain complex relationships between cultures and the uses of plants).

Then, a few years ago, a young couple running a chocolate museum in Peru offered her a job making chocolate and Cohen jumped at the chance and moved to Peru and worked at the museum where she harvested and roasted cacao in the Amazon jungle and taught thousands of museum visitors how to make chocolate from scratch.

Cohen, who is 28 and grew up in Peterborough, was in Peru for six months and the skills she developed there are on display at Vicuña Chocolate, her bean-to-bar chocolate factory and cafe, which is now open on weekends serving hot chocolate,
individually-brewed pour-over coffee, cocoa-husk tea and pastries made from homemade chocolate processed from heirloom, organic cocoa beans from Central and South America.

A graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, Cohen has trained under pastry chef Pichet Ong, cooked at the James Beard House, and once made dessert for Vice President Joe Biden (a Meyer lemon olive oil cake with a blueberry sauce).

Why did she settle on chocolate?

“I went toward the sweet side of culinary arts,” she said in a recent phone interview, “and I always wondered where chocolate came from and how it is made.”

In 2012, she won a $10,000 prize on the Food Network’s Sweet Genius competition.

Cohen, who has worked as a pastry chef, chocolatier, and bean-to-bar chocolate maker in the United States, South America, Europe, and the Middle East, is happy to say all her chocolate is ethically sourced. That means farm workers are getting fair wages,”which is unfortunately not a common practice in the chocolate industry,” she said.

Vicuña is located at 15 Main St. in downtown Peterborough and will be open on Saturdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m- 4 p.m.

Visitors can watch the chocolate-making process through the factory-viewing window.

To learn more about factory tours, community events, tastings, demonstrations, private parties, and to place wholesale orders go to www.vicunachocolate.com, www.facebook.com/vicunachocolate
and www.twitter.com/vicuna
chocolate.