WAILUA — The bees at Steelgrass Chocolate Farm gave Victoria Bernard her first-ever taste of honey and now the Texan, who hails from Sugar Land, has a tasty Kauai memory to take home.
“I’ve just never tried honey,” she said. “It’s sweeter than I thought it would be.”
Bernard was one of about 15 people who recently took the three-hour Steelgrass Chocolate Farm tour at the Lydgate family farm.
The nearly 40-acre farm has around 10 varieties of cacao trees, as well as dozens of fruit trees, microgreens and other plants. Public tours are scheduled three times a week and cost $75 a ticket.
Will Lydgate, who owns the family farm with his sister Emily, said bringing people to visit is a huge piece of what keeps them in business.
“Agrotourism is really a positive thing and it’s letting me do some exciting things,” Lydgate said. “It’s a whole new world of farming and doing ag on ag land in Hawaii isn’t actually as easy as it sounds.”
Lydgate started the chocolate tours at the farm in 2007. He said his tours are the first of the several chocolate farm tours around the island.
“There are others who have imitated but they can’t compare to the original,” Lydgate said. “We have a farm. We’re growing chocolate.”
In addition to tasting more than 10 different kinds of chocolate and farm-made honey, visitors can try exotic fruits like mamey sapote, eggfruit, soursop, rambutan and Tahitian limes.
Kauai honey and local dragonfruit was the jackpot for Luis Reis, who is visiting the island from Monterey, California.
“Just put the dragonfruit in that honey,” he suggested to Molly Lorenzi, also from Monterey. “It’s awesome.”
A stand of papyrus plants takes center stage for part of the tour. Guide Andrea Kiser, of Wailua, showed guests how to slice up the stalk while she explained the paper-making process.
“It’s never worked out very well when I’ve tried it, but maybe that’s because I didn’t soak it in the Nile,” she joked with the visitors. “That’s what they did in ancient Egypt when they made paper.”
After hacking a cacao pod in half with a machete for the guests, Kiser showed everyone how to dig out the sweet fruit and antioxidant-rich beans from the pods, letting guests get a taste of the raw fruit.
“And now I’m going to take you to this tent and we’re going to put a whole bunch of chocolate in your face,” she said, leading the guests to a tent set up in a bamboo forest.
Between the 10 flights of chocolate bars, Kiser offered tidbits of history, following the growth of the industry from the original Mesoamerican cultures in which it was revered to its current place in the food chain.
There are many differences between “mainstream” chocolate and more pure and handcrafted chocolate, which still has real cacao butter and a high concentration of real cacao.
“Real chocolate is actually good for you. It’s recommended to eat one ounce of dark chocolate, 60 percent or more, every day,” Lydgate said. “It’s a superfood that tastes better than kale.”
Kiser added: “I just get here in the morning and grab a bean or two, and there’s my antioxidants for the day.”
Lydgate, who was born in California, is the fifth-generation member of his family to live in the Hawaiian Islands. He returned to Kauai as a teenager after hearing family stories of life on the island, and is proud to be carrying on the name here.
“I’m named after my great-great-grandfather, William Lydgate,” he said, “and I’d like to think he’d be proud of me, running a family farm out here and making it happen.”
Hosting visitors is equally as important to Lydgate, uses much of his free time to tell people about the benefits of cacao.
“And everyone loves chocolate,” her said. “Everyone always smiles when you talk about chocolate.”
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