Vanilla was first planted at Silver Cloud in 2000 from cuttings
taken from Madagascar. Growing vanilla is extremely labor intensive and it
takes up to five years for a vine to mature and bear fruit. All the
cultivation, pollination and harvesting of vanilla needs to be done by hand.
Today, there are approximately 300,000 Vanilla planifolia vines
on the estate. Luckily, all the vines do not flower at once, but each plant is
checked everyday when flowering begins in December.
Vanilla vines are trained on trees and carefully pruned. The flowers are
pollinated using a bamboo splinter. Not all the flowers on a vine are
pollinated. This is done to conserve the plant's energy and to focus it in
fewer beans. In about 10 weeks the flowers develop into long green beans.
Due to the almost perfect climate and the rich soil, Silver Cloud's vanilla
beans can reach a length of 12 inches, though 7 to 10 inch beans are more
typical. The green beans, which are almost tasteless and odorless, are hand
picked and blanched using boiling water. This stops further vegetative
development and initiates the enzymatic reaction which is responsible for
vanilla's characteristic flavor and aroma.
The vanilla beans are then carefully dried in the sun during the day and
wrapped in blankets and "sweated" at night. This curing process is repeated
until the beans are properly cured, which can take anywhere from 4-6 months. As
they cure, the beans slowly develop a dark mahogany color and characteristic
vanilla flavor. Silver Cloud's beans also develop a crystalline substance on
the surface of the beans. This is natural vanillin which is the main flavor
component found in vanilla beans. While our beans are higher in natural
vanillin than beans from Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Tahiti, vanillin
isn't the only indicator of quality in Vanilla. Well over 100 other flavor
components have been identified in vanilla and all of them contribute to its
characteristic flavor and aroma.