Sunday, November 27, 2011

Davao Cacao - Tablea

This may come as a surprise to many but Davao is the country's top producer and exporter of cacao, where chocolate is made from. In Davao, the major cacao-producing provinces are Davao del Sur, Davao City, Davao Oriental, Bukidnon, and Davao del Norte.

Cacao grows best on higher ground, to an elevation of at least 1,000 meters above sea level usually in between other trees where it is shaded for optimal growth. It thrives best in areas like Davao where there is an evenly distributed rainfall throughout the year. Upon reaching maturity, the cacao pods sprout from its trunk and branches and embedded inside the pods are layers of 20 60 cacao beans.

Cacao Trees

Man's fascination with chocolates has its roots from the Aztecs of South America who have already enjoyed this so called "Drink of the Gods" long before Christopher Columbus discovered it from the Aztecs in the 15th century and brought it back to the new world to show King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. While cocoa became a court favorite, it was the Spanish friars who actually introduced the wonders of the chocolate beans to the rest of Europe. It was served as beverage, but the Europeans added sugar and milk to neutralize the cocoa's natural bitterness and removed the chili pepper, replacing it with vanilla, another indigenous Mexican spice. 

Cocoa Pod

The scientific name of the cacao tree is Theobroma cacao which means "Food of the gods" from the Aztec word "cacahuatl", and was later adapted into the Spanish language. The word cacao entered scientific nomenclature in 1753 after the Swedish naturalist Carl Nilsson Linnaeus published his taxonomic binomial system and coined the genus and species Theobroma cacao.

Carl Nilsson Linnaeus 1775
Oil painting in the portrait collection at Gripsholm Castle

For hundreds of years, the process of extracting cocoa butter to create hard and durable chocolate through mechanical mills in the 18th century remained unchanged. However, it was not until the Industrial Revolution era that these mills were utilized for greater use. This was when people around the world began consuming chocolates.

Pierre Paul Caffarel

Towards the end of the 18th century, the first form of solid chocolate was invented in Turin, Italy by Doret. This chocolate was sold in large quantities from 1826 by Pierre Paul Caffarel. In 1819, Francois-Louis Cailler opened the first Swiss chocolate factory. In 1828, Dutchman Coenraad Johannes van Houten patented a method for extracting the fat from cocoa beans and making powdered cocoa and cocoa butter. It was also at this time that Van Houten developed the so called "Dutch Process" of treating chocolate with alkali to remove its bitter taste which helps form the modern chocolate bar we see today. 

Francois-Louis Cailler

Coenraad Johaness van Houten

Englishman Joseph Fry is believed to have made the first chocolate for eating in 1847, followed in 1849 by the Cadbury brothers. Daniel Peter, a Swiss candle maker, joined his father-in-law's chocolate business. In 1867, he began experimenting with milk as an ingredient. He brought his new product, milk chocolate, to market in 1875. He was assisted in removing the water content from the milk to prevent mildewing by a neighbour, a baby food manufacturer named Henri Nestlé. Rodolphe Lindt invented the process called "conching", which involves heating and grinding the chocolate solids very finely to ensure that the liquid is evenly blended. This enabled Milton Hershey to make chocolate even more popular by mass producing affordable chocolate bars. 

Daniel Peter

Henri Nestlé

Rodolphe Lindt

Milton Hershey

With the growing popularity of the chocolate, the French established cacao plantations in the Caribbean, while Spain brought the cacao and developed it in their Philippine Colony. A Spanish mariner named Pedro Bravo de Lagunas started its first planting of cacao in San Jose, Batangas sometime in 1670. The country was the first in Asia to plant cacao and process Tablea from cocoa beans. Commercial cacao farms were established by a group of Filipino investors and many more farms were added in Mindanao. Cacao plantations continued to flourish over the years, though comparatively smaller now than it was during the Spanish times. 

Right up to the 1970’s, the tedious processing of grinding the dark brown cacao beans and shaping it into discs of tableas were all done manually. With problems hampering agriculture particularly the cacao plantations during the Agrarian era in the 1990’s, the local cacao industry did not flourish and tablea making was one of the first casualties of industrialization.

World famous Mars Chocolates

Now , Mars, Inc. of the United States, one of the biggest consolidated confectionery company in the world today, and makers of the world favorites such as M&M's, Snickers, and the Mars bar including 3 Musketeers, Dove, Milky Way, Skittles, Twix, and Starburst candy, Combos and Kudos snacks, Uncle Ben's rice, and pet food under the names Pedigree, Sheba, and Whiskas, literally came to the rescue and directly tapped Davao farmers to supply cacao. It also owns the world's largest chewing gum maker, the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company.

Cocoa Green House at Mars Cocoa Development Center
of the Puentespina family of Davao

Since there is no single cacao plantation that has the capacity to supply the magnitude of cacao required by Mars, Inc., Ms. Charita Puentespina spearheaded the consolidation of cacao harvests  within Davao City. Thus, the Puentespina family established the Mars Cocoa Development Center to serve as a hub for cacao farmers in Davao City and in nearby provinces of Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, and Sto. Tomas in Davao del Norte, making them the biggest consolidator of all wet beans produced by farmers within a 25-kilometer radius from the Puentespina farm in Malagos, where a total of 17 hectares is planted with cacao. The Farm has established fermentation and drying facilities to produce good quality beans.

Aimed at helping cacao farmers in Davao, the Mars Cacao Development Center in Malagos District, Davao City has hosted free training on the proper growing, rehabilitation, and post-harvest of cacao trees to no less than 4,000 farmers. The Center also established fermentation and drying facilities to further control quality of the wet beans where the flavor and aroma profile of the chocolate is developed, not only in variety.

Producing well-fermented and dried beans is not an easy task. To ensure bean quality, all beans are fermented, solar-dried, then sorted and graded based on internationally-accepted standards. Fermentation usually takes about 5-7 days for the full flavor of the beans to develop and drying takes about a week or 10 days. Fermentation enhances the aroma and flavor of the chocolate made from the beans. The beans are dried in a specially-constructed tent-like structures where the beans are turned twice a day for consistent drying. When the beans have achieved the right color and texture, it is then meticulously sorted, graded, and then packed in jute sacks. However, beans that have not yet reached its optimum dryness or minimum moisture content required by Mars, it is then returned to the drying area. While the tent-like structures depended mainly on the sun for heat, it is well ventilated to control humidity. Solar-drying in enclosed dryers ensures that the beans are not contaminated by undesirable odors and keeps the beans free from dirt and other debris.

Malagos Cacao

Davao tableas are excellent for making full-bodied, antioxidant-rich drinks not only for breakfast but for any time of the day as well. These are suitable too for baking that requires only the best in chocolate ingredients. Tableas are hygienically molded from pure chocolate liquor (thick, liquid chocolate paste) ground from roasted fermented beans, and vacuum-sealed in food-grade plastic envelopes. 

In Davao, tableas are not alkalized (Dutch) as this process will materially reduce the antioxidant property of any cacao product. Unlike powdered cocoa used to make chocolate drinks, tableas have nothing removed from them, and nothing added to them. Tableas, being pure cocoa, cannot be powdered as pure cocoa resists being transformed into powder. They are real, dark chocolate in their raw, untreated, and healthily beneficial form. Just dissolve the tableas thoroughly in boiling water, add sweetener and milk, stir and mix well, and it produces thick, frothy and antioxidant-rich cocoa drink. 

High grade or pure, unadulterated chocolate does not raise the bodys LDL or low density lipoprotein (the so-called bad cholesterol). With all its cocoa butter intact, it is in fact rich in palmitic, stearic and oleic acids which are all heart-friendly fats. For as long as cocoa is dark chocolate, you can be assured that it has the antioxidants that can reduce cancer risks and heart disease.

Hot Tablea Drink

Recipe for a hot Tablea drink

When buying tablea, check the fine print at the back of the package to ensure that the tablea is pure and does not contain sugar or milk.

1. Put one pure tablea in a cup of water (225 ml) in a tsokolatera over medium to high heat.

2. Once the mixture starts to boil, swirl the batirol with the palms of your hand and lower the flame as it starts to foam. The batirol will ensure smooth consistency of the mixture.

4. Continue mixing for 15-30 minutes until it reaches the desired consistency - medium thick or thick.

5. Once ready, pour the mixture into cups. Sugar and milk may be added as desired.

In Davao, hot Tablea drink is popularly served with puto-maya.

Puto Maya

Contact Information

Mars Cocoa Development Center advocates support for cacao growers in the Davao region, and is open to visitors who want to learn how cacao beans are processed.

Mars Cacao Development Center
Puentespina Farm, Barangay Malagos
Baguio District, Davao City
E-mails or

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Davao Cheese

Unknown to many, Davao produces one of, if not, the best cheese in the country today. These high quality artisan cheese are handmade by Malagos Farmhouse of the Puentespina family of Davao City and are gaining popularity in our local market and being regarded abroad to be at par or even tastier than the imported European and Australian cheeses.

What started in 2006 by Mrs. Olive Puentespina as a simple goat cheese for the local market, eventually developed into 22 varieties of artisan cheese. The most noted ones are the fresh Goat Cheese (kesong puti), the Chèvre (French-style fresh cheese, pleasantly tart and lusciously creamy), the Feta (made of pure goat’s milk and aged in brine), the Blue Peppato (mildly aged cow’s milk cheese with whole green-pepper corn), and Blue Goat Cheese (a young goat cheese, mildly aged with blue molds), Queso Rustico (cheese made from cow's milk), Ricotta, Pecorino, Mutchli, and Fromage Frais, among others. 

Mrs. Olive Puentespina of Malagos Farmhouse

While cheese making proved to be a tedious process of trial and error to produce a perfect cheese, in September of 2006, Mrs. Puentespina's Feta was adjudged the Cheese of the Month by the Cheese Club of the Philippines - a landmark achievement considering that it was the first time ever that a locally produced cheese won such a distinction. Since then, many of these cheeses have found their way in to delicatessen stores, high-end groceries and supermarkets, bars, restaurants, and five-star hotels in Manila, and are very much in-demand now in the international market. 

The famous Malagos Farmhouse Feta Cheese

Philippine Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, regularly and exclusively serves the Malagos Farmhouse Feta cheese in the business class of its international flights. PAL orders every month four kinds of Malagos cheese, about 70 kilograms for each kind. Malagos Farmhouse also makes a special Blue Cheese that contains some mangoes for the national flag carrier.

Fresh Goat Cheese


Blue Goat Cheese

Blue Peppato Cheese

Blush Cheese

All Malagos cheeses are 100% made in Davao using 100% locally produced milk fresh from its dairy farm utilizing pure-bred goats and hybrid cows including their own herbs and spices. Malagos Farmhouse believes that the use of local ingredients and techniques adapted particularly to  Davao's good climate gives a distinct flavor to the cheeses Malagos produces.

Malagos Hybrid Goats

More Hybrid Goats

Malagos Cheese Products

Thanks to the Puentespina family of Malagos Farmhouse in Davao for giving us top quality artisan cheese that every Filipino should be proud of. MABUHAY!

Contact Information

Bolcan Street, Agdao, Davao City
Philippines 8000 
Tel (082) 226-4446

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mergrande Ocean Resort

Formerly called Villa Victoria, now renamed Mergrande Ocean Resort is an 8.8 hectare beachfront resort in Talomo District about 25 minutes drive from downtown Davao City. It is classified as a Class AA Beach Resort by the Department of Tourism, and has been awarded as the No. 1 Beach Resort 2005 - 2008 in Davao City.

Driveway to the Mergrande Convention Hall

It has been over a decade since I was here last in 1999 with a client-turned-friend, Allan Gabucan of Davao City, who brought me to the Resort along with a couple of young waitresses whom we met at the now defunct Camarine Grille in Victoria Plaza Mall, downtown Davao City which Allan and I used to frequent practically almost every night back then usually at a little before closing office hours to the wee hours of the morning. The occasion was actually not the first time I came to Villa Victoria as it was called then. It was I recall Raymund, a visiting regional manager of a multi-national pharmaceutical company based in Manila, whom I met at D' Counter Executive Hotel & Dormitory also in downtown Davao where he was staying, who first introduced the Resort. The third and definitely wont be the last time I have visited the Resort was with my wife and some friends. 

Of course, the Resort looks totally different now than it was a decade ago. Much improvement and renovation over time was obviously meticulously undertaken by the Resort to give it, I should say, a more modern look in touch with the times. It goes without saying that I will surely recommend Mergrande to my visiting friends and relatives from Manila when they are in town.

Signage welcoming guests to the Resort

Main Entrance to Mergrande

Mergrande is a combination of French and Spanish words, "mer" which means "sea" in French, and "grande" for "big" in Spanish. 

The Resort is complete with amenities and facilities standard to a beach resort such as a big swimming pool, cottages, dormitories for overnight stay, a restaurant, and, of course, the beach. The beach may not be white sand and is somewhat ash gray but, just the same, guests will surely enjoy popular water sport activities such as skim boarding, wake boarding, or may simply bond with families and friends out in the beach.

At the Beach

Kids always love the beach

View of Gulf of Davao

Farther side of the Beach

The Pool

Other view of the Pool

View of the entire Swimming Pool

Beach Cottages

Mergrande also has billiards, basketball and tennis courts, darts, a videoke area, an 18-hole mini golf course, and a fishing village.

Fishing Village

18-Hole Mini Golf Course

Videoke Area

Billiard Hall

Basketball and Tennis Courts

Convention Hall

The Resort is also a popular venue for corporate or business functions such as conventions, seminars, meetings, and social gatherings like birthday parties, family or school reunions, etc. 

The Canteen

The Restaurant and Bar

Fisherman's Room

For overnight stay, there are several reasonably priced air-conditioned and non air-conditioned rooms which can accommodate two to four persons.

Pirates Room

Row of Captain Rooms (Left)

How to get to Mergrande Ocean Resort

Mergrande is located at Bago Aplaya, Talomo District, about 25 minute drive either by private or public transportation from downtown Davao City.

Signboard giving direction to the Resort

Contact Information

Mergrande Ocean Resort
Bago Aplaya, Talomo District, Davao City
Tels (082) 289-84100
Fax (082) 298-4101
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