FCIA Fine Chocolate Glossary

Spotlight on Jerry Toth & Intercropping

For this week’s post I had the pleasure to talk to Jerry Toth, co-founder of Third Millennium Alliance (TMA) and To’ak Chocolate.

Jerry, what attracted you to lay down your roots in Ecuador and start Third Millennium Alliance & To’ak?

As a guy who was born and raised in Chicago, I always hated the cold. One of my very first truly independent actions as an adult was to quit my first job out of college (on Wall Street, of all places) and to move to the tropics of Central and South America for an indefinite period of time. I did this when I was 22 years old. In some senses, I’ve been here ever since.

After a few years of roaming the continent, working odd jobs, and occasionally going back to New York City to work at restaurants, I started to feel rootless. Around that time, I was living in Chile, where I met two fellow activists – an Ecuadorian woman named Isabel Dávila and Bryan Criswell. Together, we decided to move to Isabel’s home country and start a permaculture project together.

Why permaculture? We felt that unsustainable development was the biggest threat our planet faced (and still does), and initially we latched onto permaculture as the solution. We created a nonprofit organization called TMA (Third Millennium Alliance), raised some money, purchased some land, and did our best to protect the forest that was on it and to restore the deforested land that surrounded it.

Can you take us back to the moment when you first started farming cacao trees and making chocolate? How did you start? And how was your first chocolate bar?

One of the many trees we used for reforestation was cacao, always mixed with a bunch of other fruit trees. That was in 2008-ish.

From there, I developed an obsession with cacao farming, which led to an obsession with chocolate. Initially, the chocolate I made was super rustic – we roasted our cacao beans in a cast iron pot over an open flame and the used an old hand-grinder to grind it. We barely even fermented it back then, but it still didn’t matter – the aroma was so seductively powerful that it sparked an idea. That led to the creation of To’ak in 2013.

I’d like to ask you a question about the Glossary. Why do you think it is so important?

For one, there are a lot of people who are trying to learn how to grow cacao and/or make chocolate. The Glossary is a learning tool for that. There are also a lot of people out there who simply love chocolate and want to learn more about what it is they’re tasting. I’m like that with wine – I’m not a winemaker, but I love learning about different grapes, different appellations, different production methods. It’s fun to learn about the process, and then to connect what you’ve learned with the flavor and aroma sensations that you experience when you taste it. To the same extent that I’m grateful to those who have taught me (a wine novice) about wine, I’m happy to help people learn more about cacao.

Lastly, I want to ask you a fun question that I have been asking for this blog. What do you recommend everyone eating or drinking, anything related with cacao or chocolate, at least once in their life?

One of my flavor recipe tricks, when I make my morning drinking chocolate, is turmeric. I think turmeric and cacao mix together in a really nice way. Preferably fresh turmeric – and not too much of it. Just enough to perceive it on the palate. Cacao is obviously loaded with health benefits on its own, but adding a little turmeric – among other nutrient-packed ingredients – makes it all the more powerful.

Thank you so much Jerry!

You can read Jerry’s definition of intercropping here.

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