If ‘chocolate factory’ conjures up images of Wonka’s waterfall then you aren’t far off the truth – the pouring and whirling of chocolate is a key part of the process. I discovered this recently, when I was lucky to visit the Mast Brothers testing room and factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Mast Brothers is a small-batch, made-to-order producer that crafts chocolate with beans specific to certain regions, from Papua New Guinea to Madagascar to Peru. The plain chocolate takes on distinct flavours from the different regions, such as cherry, earth, raisin, tabacco, plum, sarsparilla. Other varieties are experimental, with unlikely chocolate inhabitants like olive oil and black truffle. To top it all off, there’s no artificial emulsifiers, preservatives or ingredients used!
After arriving at the Mast Borthers’ factory, we strung on our hairnets ready to explore the various rooms dedicated to producing their sublime bars. The space was beautiful – deep red exposed brick walls with arches and pillars, giant chalkboards for notes and even handsome men wrapping the delicate chocolate bars in what looks like artwork (the packaging at Mast brothers is unmatched. Pictures below). Pallets were stacked high with the exotic range of beans and sugar, the two ingredients the purists at Mast commit to.
Crunching on roasted cocoa beans, we observed a homemade machine that simply uses wind to separate the two bean components of nib and husk by weight. Discarding the husk (my imagination went wild here as I pictured potential used for the waste fibre – could chocolate houses or clothes become reality?!), the nib is then ground by granite wheels in a mixer for hours, the fats in the cocoa nib lubricating the mixture until it is the thick creamy lava that we know from chocolate ads. The mixture then sets in tubs to age, like cheese or wine, to then be melted down a few days later and reset in moulds of a manageable size.
There is a certain fantasy surrounding the idea of a chocolate factory, perhaps because chocolate is so adored worldwide. I couldn’t help but juxtapose the warm, almost luxurious space at Mast Bothers with what I imagine my grandfather worked in on arriving to North America from Slovenia for the first time – faceless immigrants mechanically navigating a steel jungle. And then again, with the Oompa Loompas and confectionary world of Charlie’s adventure at Willy Wonker’s Chocolate Factory. Mystical. Food of the Gods, indeed.
All of my hard work taking notes and pictures was rewarded at the tasting, where I enjoyed the fiery Serrano Pepper bar, and the ever-popular Almond & Sea Salt bar. My favourite was the Smoked Vanilla, which used Papua New Guinean cocoa beans that had been even more richly flavoured by a few flaming coconut shells thrown into the roaster before being shipped to Brooklyn. Wow.
To have your own golden ticket-worthy Mast Brothers chocolate experience check out stockists or order online here.
And here’s a little vid featuring the Mast Brothers founders Rick and Michael…