Patrick Garvey and Eric Gilbert are co-hosting two chocolate workshops at the Grimal Grove on Big Pine Key. The event on Saturday, Feb. 1 is for adults only and pairs wine and chocolate. On Sunday, Feb. 2, organizers are throwing open the gates to all ages.
“We’re going to have a short presentation on the cacao tree, and taste some chocolate,” said chocolatier Eric Gilbert. This Canadian has been in the chocolate business since his dad opened a chocolate shop when he was 11 years ago. It’s developed into his passion, torching even brighter since he learned of a 20-year-old cacao tree on Big Pine Key.
“The Keys are located just outside the growing zone. Cacao trees normally grow 20 degrees on either side of the equator. Here on Big Pine Key, we are at 24.67 degrees latitude. We have this one tree and have some seedlings started,” he said. “I don’t know if they will bear fruit, but we hope so.”
Some workshop participants will be able to take home the seedlings. Everyone, however, will get a chance to taste different chocolate.
Gilbert has studied chocolate in Ecuador since 2007 when he was an exchange student. He’s also ventured to Guatemala and Nicaragua to work directly with cacao farmers in those regions and to lead a cooperative to teach them how to make “finished” chocolate for a larger share of the end profit. Gilbert said workshop participants will be able to have a taste of the Kallari chocolate from Ecuador at the weekend events.
“I think I will have at least five types of single-source chocolate — some from Uganda, Tanzania and Santo Domingo,” Gilbert said, explaining single-source chocolate is made from products derived from one country, not a blend. He said it will be very interesting to see what Florida Keys chocolate would taste like.
“People say that it’s impossible to grow cacao in the continental United States, but we have this tree on Big Pine Key and I recently visited the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami and they have some there that produce fruit,” he said.
The chocolate growing experiment is just one of the new ventures at Grimal Grove on Big Pine Key. Now owned by an organization called Growing Hope Initiative, the group has invested in restoring the property once owned by inventor Adolf Grimal who pioneered photography equipment in the 1950s. After his death in the late ’90s, his world-renowned fruit grove in the Keys — dotted with exotic species he collected all over the world — fell into disrepair.
“We purchased it about two months ago,” said Patrick Garvey, director of the Growing Hope Initiative with offices in Marathon. Garvey said he plans to turn the grove into a community facility and education center. The group plans to stage events, skill sharing workshops and educational tours for locals and visitors.
Grimal Grove is located at 258 Cunningham Lane on Big Pine Key, a few blocks behind the Big Pine Motel. For more information, call 305-923-6663.Grimal Grove is located at 258 Cunningham Lane on Big Pine Key, a few blocks behind the Big Pine Motel. For more information, call 305-923-6663.
• Wine & Chocolate: Saturday, Feb. 1 from 2 to 5 p.m. (adults only). $25.
• Chocolate Workshop: Sunday, Feb. 2 from 1 to 4 p.m. (family friendly). $20.