Grenada has more to offer than powdery beaches, emerald mountains and azure seas — as if that weren’t enough. The island also has a number of artisanal producers of food and drink worth visiting. Valuable crops like cacao, nutmeg and sugar cane thrive in the volcanic soil and tropical climate of Grenada.
We visited two chocolate makers, a nutmeg cooperative and one of the island’s rum distilleries. It’s possible to visit these producers in a single excursion, but I recommend dividing them into at least two excursions, interspersing the tours below with visits to waterfalls and ancient petroglyphs.
This large and popular estate dates to the 18th century, when it functioned as a sugar plantation. In the hands of the local Nyack family since 1944, it produced nutmeg until Hurricane Ivan destroyed the majority of its trees in 2004. While the replanted trees mature, Belmont Estate has refocused its energies on making high-quality chocolate (cacao plants take less time to start producing fruit). Because we visited after the cruise ship season had finished, we had a private tour with the energetic and knowledgeable Kelly. He picked a cacao pod and broke it open, revealing fresh beans clad in white pulp that tasted rather like mango. The pulp helps the all-organic beans ferment, before they’re dried and manually sorted by size in order to ensure even roasting. Belmont then ages its chocolate three months, tempers it and forms it into bars. They’re small and not inexpensive, but they make excellent gifts for people back home. The 74% chocolate bar with sea salt was my favorite.
The first chocolate producer on the island, the Grenada Chocolate Company is a much smaller and less formal affair. Even in season, you’re unlikely to run into a cruise ship group here. The private tour of the small factory was quick — I suspect we took the gentleman leading it away from other work he had to do — but it was enjoyable nevertheless. Whereas at Belmont, where a wall of glass separated us from the factory, at the Grenada Chocolate Company, we walked among the machinery and our guide told us more about how it functioned. Here, though, we couldn’t see any cacao plants; the Grenada Chocolate Company sources its beans from various organic farmers around the island. Because of the contrasting tours, I recommend visiting both Belmont Estate and the Grenada Chocolate Company if time permits. The latter has a smaller shop but a larger selection of chocolate, the texture of which is silky smooth.
Although Hurricane Ivan decimated Grenada’s nutmeg farms, the replanted trees have started to produce fruit and the industry has finally begun to rebound. The second-largest town on the island, Grenville has one of Grenada’s most important nutmeg-processing facilities, a cooperative where local farmers can sell their nutmeg and mace (a bright-red husk around the nut) by weight. Nutmegs must be in excellent condition to be accepted, and the station grades mace carefully as well. The tour was inexpensive, illuminating and relatively brief, which is to say that it was ideal. Our guide showed us and the one other couple on the tour what fresh nutmeg fruit looks like, as well as the various grades of fresh mace. He also led us around dozens of drying racks full of nutmeg, while telling us about all its various uses (the spice can help with pain relief, for example, in the form of a topical oil). The tour takes about 30 minutes, which makes it an excellent addition to any excursion that includes the eastern side of Grenada. Tel. (473) 442-7241
Like Belmont Estate, the River Antoine distillery occupies a former 18th-century plantation. Flaming-red royal poinciana trees in bloom lined the driveway, leading up to a veritable mountain of sugar cane husks. River Antoine is the only distillery on the island to use local sugar cane — the others import molasses or even unaged rum. The facility looks positively medieval, with a functioning waterwheel and great cauldrons of sugar cane juice bubbling away. River Antoine makes no concessions to modernity: Even the towering copper pot stills are wood-fired. I appreciate the dedication to tradition, but in this case, it does not result in rums that are to my taste. “It takes two weeks from harvest to drink,” our guide proudly told me. I asked why the distillery makes no aged rums. “We make 500 bottles a day, and we sell out immediately,” she explained. “To age it, we would have to change our process, and then we would become like any other distillery.” I’m glad that River Antoine’s rum is so popular on the island. But given the choice between 138-proof or 150-proof rums, I’ll take neither. The flavor starts sweet before alcoholic fire quickly overwhelms it, burning the throat. And that’s the sum of the experience. I’ll stick with Flor de Caña, Ron Centenario or Ron Zacapa, thank you very much. Tel. (473) 442-7109