The American Chocolate Revolution

Mast Brothers chocolate barsThough we may think of Europe as the epicenter of fine chocolate, America is arguably home to the world’s most exciting community of up-and-coming chocolate makers.

What you see in America that you don’t necessarily see elsewhere is a growing crop of “bean-to-bar” chocolate producers – artisans who are working directly with raw cocoa beans, often sourced directly from farmers. In their small labs in places as unlikely as Utah and Missouri, these producers are seeing the cocoa through from its raw form to its natural end — beautiful bars of chocolate that showcase as much of the flavor and character of the original bean as possible.

It sounds like a relatively straightforward process, but it’s actually unusual. A lot of chocolatiers buy pre-made chocolate from larger companies, melt it down and make their own bars or confections. This is not to say their products are necessarily bad or inferior, but just as we support small-craft cheese and wine at Formaggio Kitchen, we also like to support small-craft chocolate as much as possible.

Our selection of bean-to-bar chocolate producers includes some of America’s best: Minnesota’s Rogue, Utah’s Amano, Missouri’s Askinosie and our very own Taza, located next door in Somerville, MA. (For more on how chocolate is made at Taza, click here.)

Patric chocolate bars

This week, we are lucky to welcome two bean-to-bar chocolate makers to Cambridge for an amazing first-of-its-kind beer and chocolate dinner tomorrow night at Green St. Grill. Brooklyn’s Mast Brothers and Missouri’s Patric will present their chocolates alongside craft beers from Sixpoint and Cambridge Brewing as part of a four-course meal that will also feature artisan cheese from Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm. It will be a rare opportunity to meet some of the producers leading America’s chocolate revolution – not only do they make great chocolate, they are also cool, super-friendly people who love to talk about what they do.

On a recent visit to New York, I stopped in to try a couple of new origins at the Mast Brothers studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The brothers, Rick and Michael, have recently begun buying cacao from a Venezuelan family and are making a lovely Ocumare bar that is earthy and tobacco-y, and an even lovelier “grand cru” bar from a place called Patanemo, with amazing flavors of cinnamon and plum.

I had first visited the Mast Brothers about a year ago and was heartened this time to see how their operation has grown (they are now making chocolate seven days a week), but also stayed true to its roots. They are still using the same small convection oven to gently roast their cocoa beans, and specially-fashioned Indian rice grinders (albeit slightly bigger ones) to grind cocoa nibs into chocolate liquor.  As Rick, an avid beer brewer, told me last year, this could be just the beginning for artisan chocolate in America.

“There’s the capacity in this country to have small chocolate makers on the same scale as microbrewers,” he said. “There’s always going to be demand.”

Emily Shartin is the chocolate buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.