Though local chocolate producers, especially the small and medium-sized ones, remain largely in the shadow of their foreign counterparts, they are making steady progress in gaining both popular and critical recognition for their products — and, in some ways, Filipino-made products in general. Here are some homegrown chocolatiers that have found success by concocting chocolates that leave a lasting impression on the palate.
Malagos Agri-Ventures Corporation
The founders of the company, Roberto and Charita Puentespina, went into growing cacao in 2003 after leasing a farm planted with cacao trees. Ms. Puentespina would make tablea or chocolate tablets by open-roasting, grinding and then molding the harvested beans. It took the couple nine years to establish Malagos Agri-Ventures Corporation, and an additional year to introduce its signature Malagos Chocolate, which are made from Trinitario beans. At the Academy of Chocolate Awards 2017 held in London, the 100% pure, unsweetened variant of the Malagos Chocoalate won a silver in the plain hot chocolate category. The Malagos 65% Dark Chocolate and Malagos 72% Dark Chocolate, meanwhile, were awarded bronze in the tree to bar category.
This brand of local chocolate is named after the Filipino word for “fruit of one’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations,” the chocolatier says on its Web site, adding that it’s one half of the phrase “Hiraya Manawari,” which means “may the wishes of your heart be granted.” “We believe it to be a fitting name that captures what our products aspire to be — chocolate products that bring joy to people, imparted with all the love, care, and passion from the moment of its creation,” the chocolatier says. The beans used to make Hiraya chocolates are sourced from Barangay Malabog, in Davao City. Hiraya chocolates come in different flavors, like coconut (chocolate with coconut milk and roasted coconuts) and chicharon (spicy dark chocolate with crunchy pork rind).
Magdalena’s Cacao Bean Chocolates
Husband and wife Gerry and Cynthia Baron had successful publishing careers abroad. They had co-authored books and run a desktop publishing company, all while raising five children. But the late Ms. Baron’s love of chocolate and the couple’s shared love of farming motivated them to give making chocolates a try. The couple flew back to the Philippines, and started using the spare parcel of land in Magdalena, Laguna that Ms. Baron owned to grow cacao trees. And Mr. Baron put his engineering skills to use, designing and building the necessary equipment to keep the farm running. Soon, they were making real chocolates. Magdalena’s is made from a mixture of cacao beans, cacao butter, cane sugar, organic vanilla powder, soy lecithin, among others. It is Mr. Baron’s dream to have more Magdalena farmers plant cacao trees and be able to supply the chocolate industry.
Theo & Philo
The brain behind this popular local chocolate maker, Philo Chua, was living alone abroad when he was drawn into the world of chocolates. He soon discovered that that even though some European countries are renowned for their chocolates, they cannot grow cacao themselves owing to the climate there. “The cacao plant can only grow within 20 degrees north and south of the equator… just like in the Philippines, where I was born and raised.” Mr. Chua shares on Theo & Philo’s Web site. He went back to the Philippines and put up what is now an established local chocolate brand. “At our factory, each batch of chocolate is produced in small quantities (actually, it would be “micro” in industry standards) and overseen personally by people instead of machines,” Mr. Chua says. Among the chocolatier’s famous products are the 70% Dark Chocolate, which has slight floral and earthy tastes, and Labuyo, a spicy dark chocolate.