Since opening in Brooklyn a few years ago, Mast Brothers Chocolate has been making a big name for itself. Founding brothers, Rick and Michael Mast, create flavorful bean-to-bar chocolate with imagination and enthusiasm at every step. They import some of the finest single origin cacao from around the world. Recently, they realized a long-held dream of importing some of their beans by sailboat, direct from the Dominican Republic to New York.
Each step of their process is an exercise in meticulous care. This care is possible because they do everything by hand and in small batches. Once finished, each bar is hand-wrapped in thick paper with striking prints, each designed by a family member or friend. However, the resulting chocolate bars are more than just a tasty treat in snappy packaging; they’re steeped in both the craft and art of chocolate making.
When I had an excuse to take a trip to NYC, I made sure to visit the Brooklyn chocolatiers to take a tour of their “factory”. To accommodate the growth of their business, they recently moved into a larger space, which still keeps them comfortably in the scale of craft chocolatiers. On a sunny Friday afternoon, when production had mostly slowed down for the day, the office manager, Stephanie, took me on a tour of the space and talked me through each step of the chocolate making process.
The process starts thousands of miles away in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Madagascar where cacao beans are carefully grown, harvested and fermented. Upon reaching Mast Brothers, the large sacks of cacao beans go through a rigorous process of tasting and experimenting to figure out a recipe to best showcase the flavor profiles of each region’s cacao. Then, the production process begins: careful sorting, gentle roasting, winnowing, stone grinding, aging and tempering:
First, the cacao beans are sifted to remove any pebbles or debris.
Next, they are moved to roasting pans where they are hand sorted to remove shells or damaged beans.
The beans are then oven roasted, an attention to detail which is rare for chocolatiers. Most commercial roasting is done in large, mechanized roasters.
Then, the roasted cacao beans are winnowed in a machine that was custom-made for the Mast Brothers. The machine carefully grinds the beans and separates the cocoa nibs from the shell. Using an innovative design, a vacuum sucks up the shells while the heavier nibs fall to the bottom.
After winnowing, the nibs are stone ground to create thick paste. During this process cane sugar is added. The amount of sugar added determines the chocolate bar’s percentage – for example, if you see a bar with 70% cacao, it will have approximately 30% sugar.
The ground chocolate is then aged for a minimum of 30 days, a step that not all chocolate makers take. This is done to allow the chocolate to rest, which develops the flavors, and helps the chocolatiers to manage their inventory so they can make chocolate to order. After aging, the chocolate is tempered to stabilize the final product.
Gini Bell is a cheesemonger and the chocolate buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End.