Melanie Boudar’s love affair with chocolate began with diamonds.

Usually, it goes the other way — the girl gets the box of chocolates first and then the rocks, but prior to becoming a chocolatier, Boudar, co-owner of Cacao: The Art and Culture of Chocolate, Santa Fe’s newest chocolate destination, was a diamond buyer for a New Mexico jewelry company. During one memorable trip to Antwerp, a seller from whom she had just purchased a parcel of diamonds came to her with a problem: He had accidentally undervalued the stones. Melanie, though under no obligation to give the stones back, did so anyway, and he thanked her with a giant box of Belgian chocolate from a little shop next door.

“I opened it up, and visually it was stunning, but the aroma that came out of the box was amazing,” Boudar says. “I didn’t know it, but it changed my life; it set me on another course.”

Boudar and co-owner Derek Lanter are both from these parts (Boudar is from New Mexico and Lanter from Colorado), but both previously lived the chocolate life in Hawaii, where Lanter was in charge of both a Hawaiian coffee and a Hawaiian chocolate processing facility for Dole, and where Boudar opened Sweet Paradise Chocolatiers.

The pair’s Santa Fe business is actually the second part of their cacao operation, which begins in Hawaii on the small cacao farm that Boudar owns. It is, luckily for us, easier to get a permit to process chocolate in New Mexico than in Hawaii, so while Cacao’s cacao is grown there (Hawaii is the only state where it’s possible to grow cacao), it is all processed in Santa Fe. Cacao is located on Richards Lane just off Parkway Drive, a few doors down from Duel Brewing, in the rapidly developing Siler Road district. It’s quite a distance from downtown, but that’s partially because Lanter and Boudar visualized Cacao not as a mere shop, but as a fully interactive chocolate wonderland.

The front is the retail space, a still-developing shopfront stocked with single-origin chocolate bars and truffles as well as more esoteric products like chocolate body paint by Kama Sutra and chocolate-scented exfoliating soap made with ground-up cacao shells. But the retail spot is only the gateway for what you’ll find behind door No. 2. Lanter and Boudar picked their location because it allowed them to have roughly 3,000 square feet of space in which to build. Once you step into the back, you find yourself in a chocolate and coffee tasting room where you can watch Lanter brew your cup of cocoa or single-origin coffee (including Hawaiian coffee) from an individual lot of dark-roasted beans to your cup while he or Boudar explains the origins and nuances of the varietal. Continue around the labyrinth and you find yourself in a workshop space with a mini museum exhibit against the wall, complete with grinding stone, a reproduction of ancient pottery in the shape of cacao pods and even a tiny potted cacao plant tricked into believing itself in lush Brazil by the verdant green backdrop on the wall.

The museum space also is the site of Cacao’s workshops, of which the flagship is its “signature workshop,” a two-hour tour of the food of the gods with a lesson on the history of chocolate (including a mention of the chocolate residue on vessels found at Chaco Canyon, a thousand miles away from the kingdoms of the Mayans and the Aztecs). The workshop is completely hands-on; participants will crack beans, grind them in an impressive stone molcajete with some spices and sugar, and make themselves some Mesoamerican hot chocolate. Participants then get a further chocolate fix with a tasting of six or seven of what Boudar calls the “finest chocolates in the world” with a chart of tasting notes and a flavor wheel. The workshop runs two to three times a week, costs $59 per person and caps at 12 people.

Chocolate (you will learn, if you take the workshop) comes from cacao pods, giant organ-like vessels filled with pebble-like brown seeds that get fermented for a week and then dried for two to three weeks. The luckiest of those beans are then shipped to Boudar and Lanter’s new facility, where they are put through a cracker to break their shells and then spun in a wheeling machine (which looks like a popcorn machine) to remove the husk. The nibs are then run through chocolate grinders with sugar, cocoa butter and maybe some vanilla to make the liquid chocolate that is the basis for everything they serve at Cacao.

Some of the chocolate comes from Boudar’s farm in Hawaii (and from an even larger farm in Belize, of which she owns a quarter share), but there are a number of other single-origin beans as well, which arrive green and get roasted in-house in Cacao’s combination chocolate and coffee roaster to Lanter’s specifications. Everything is made in-house, including a dark milk chocolate (high percentage chocolate with milk added) with single-origin chocolate that tastes almost musky, like Parmesan cheese (in a wonderful way). It also serves chocolate elixirs, some of which have been put together by Mark Sciscenti — the original owner of Kakawa downtown and an old friend of Boudar and Lanter — who is involved with the new business.

Cacao also makes a panoply of original truffles utilizing local ingredients, including a truffle made with the balsamic concentrate that leaks out of the aging barrels of locally produced, $150-per-bottle Monticello balsamic vinegar, resulting in a tangy, almost-meaty bite of sweetness. There also is a prickly pear/hibiscus/lime truffle, a spicy biscochito truffle and a truffle filled with locally produced Heidi’s raspberry jam.

“I have 24 flavors committed to print, but I do about 40,” Boudar says.

IF YOU GO:

Cacao: The Art and Culture of Chocolate

3201 Richards Lane

(505) 471-0891

Hours - 7:30 - 4 p.m., Monday - Friday, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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