By Harold McGee
The first important step in the development of chocolate flavor is the least controlled and predictable. Fermentation takes place where cacao is grown, on thousands of small farms and larger plantations, and may be done carefully or casually or not at all, depending on the resources and skill of the farmer. The quality of cacao beans thus varies tremendously, from unfermented to badly overfermented and even moldy. The first challenge for the chocolate manufacturer is to find good-quality, fully fermented beans.