“The plantation air smells like earth after rain with a twist of an unknown dangerous aphrodisiac”
Ndali’s vanilla curing – turning it from the yellowish-green pod to the aromatic fermented chocolate-coloured bean – takes three to six months and involves blanching the beans in hot water (60-63°C) and sweating them in woollen blankets in wooden boxes. Over the weeks they are repeatedly exposed to hot sunshine and returned to their boxes for sweating, encouraging the breakdown of gluco-vanillin into vanillin through fermentation.
Thereafter, meticulously sorted, graded and kept tightly packed in wooden boxes our vanilla continues to mature and improve in flavour much like a fine wine. Its flavour and odour come partially from a white crystal, vanillin, which develops inside and on the surface of beans of exceptional quality.
We go to great lengths to produce small batches of heady high vanillin beans – starting with the insistence that the beans come to full maturity on the vine, like this bean in the picture on the left. This vanilla bean has burst through ripeness, and when nurtured through the curing process to allow its natural, fermented, winey and musky aromas to intensify, will explode in a tumbled network of exquisite downy vanillin crystals.
Different qualities of green beans require different handling. A knowledgeable curer will judge cooking and drying times by bean appearance.
Too long in the sunshine and the beans dry out, too little and they lack aroma, are prone to mould and may have a low vanillin content. We take our drying as slowly as possible to encourage an oily suppleness and heady aroma of pepper, musk, earth, spice, and butterscotch.