The Caribbean island of Hispaniola is shared by the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The island’s northern Cordillera Septentrional mountain range is the wintering ground for many North American songbirds, including the rare and endangered Bicknell’s Thrush. In fact, more than half of the world’s Bicknell’s Thrushes winter in the Dominican Republic.
Male and female Bicknell’s Thrushes winter in somewhat different habitats, with males preferring higher-elevation forests. Conservation of the middle-elevation, female-rich forests is a top conservation priority, in part because these areas are more likely to be impacted by human activities.
The Zorzal Private Reserve was founded in 2012 to conserve and protect over 1000 acres of this critical rainforest habitat (zorzal is Spanish for thrush). Surrounding landowners have since protected additional acreage, and they are working with other smallholder farms to produce organic cacao amid diverse tree species while protecting wild areas. They interplant grafted cacao trees selected for their excellent flavor characteristics. Together, they serve as a model of sustainable agroforestry for other landowners working toward landscape-level conservation and access to global markets.
Zorzal Cacao further helps the surrounding smallholder cacao farmers by providing technical assistance and helping them improve harvest and post-harvest protocols and employ sustainable management plans. Zorzal further helps the local communities by creating jobs in wildlife monitoring and offering educational services.
After collecting the ripe cacao—either from the Reserve or from its community partner-farmers—Zorzal Cacao perfects them in its nearby facility in Los Arroyos. Carefully fermented in wooden boxes, the cacao’s natural bitterness and astringency are reduced, and the full range of flavor and aroma precursors are developed. Proper drying further develops the chocolate base and accompanying tasting notes. Zorzal then transports the cocoa beans to artisan chocolate makers around the world.
In addition to the Bicknell’s Thrush, other migratory birds found in the Reserve are the Northern Parula, Cape May Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Black-and-white Warbler. This is why they are one of the few cocoa bean suppliers we can trust in making our small batch chocolate bars.
Photos courtesy of Charles Kerchner and Ryan Berk.