While it would seem that many American institutions are moving swiftly toward industrialization in food production, there are still some companies that not only believe in “slow food,” but are actually building their business and reputation on the merits of keeping things the old-fashioned way. The Mast brothers produce small-batch, artisan chocolate in Williamsburg, New York, near the Brooklyn Channel. Truly, their success is built on old-world flavour and manufacturing techniques.
The Mast Brothers haven’t always been business partners. In fact, they both had thriving careers before they ever considered delving into the world of chocolate making. Rick Mast was a musician in his former path, specializing in classical piano. He also experimented with the banjo. Once the brothers made the switch to chocolate, however, Rick spent time in renowned establishments such as Gramercy Tavern and studied under chocolatiers such as Jacques Torres in Manhattan. Michael Mast, on the other hand, was steeped in the world of independent film, working on the financial side of things. He made chocolate as a hobby in his spare time before devoting his life to the art.
When the Mast Brother Chocolate was a blossoming company, the brothers didn’t waste any money on investing in top-of-the-line factories or equipment. Instead, the entire affair began in a very modest fashion, with production originating from the apartments of both men. Even then, though, the beans mattered and served as the cornerstone of the entire product. The Mast brothers started out using only the best South American cacao beans and still make this the company’s focus, though they have since moved into more accommodating production quarters. Rick and Michael have always been very proud of the fact that they add nothing to their chocolate except for the sugar necessary to make it enjoyable to the customer. Unlike many chocolate makers who skimp on quality by adding fillers like lecithin, vanilla and extra cocoa butter, the Mast brothers believe in letting the chocolate speak for itself on the palette.
The Mast brothers have been quoted several times indicating that they enjoy taking old technology and techniques and making them new again. Indeed, they don’t make chocolate any differently than it has been produced for many years. They even locate their factory in a 100 year old building, giving visitors a very old-world flavour when they enter the shop. Their beans are also delivered, surprisingly, via the “slow boat,” having sailed from various South American sources, such as Ecuador and Venezuela, as well as African locations such as Madagascar. From the attitudes and methods used by Mast Brothers Chocolate, it’s readily apparent that these guys are in no hurry.
Mast Brothers Chocolate is very open about the process they use to make their much-praised products. In fact, the Mast brothers offer chocolate bars directly from their factory location, offering a store-front right where it all happens. Several films highlighting Rick and Michael show the chocolate refining process progressing. The small Mast Brothers crew hand sorts all the beans, using roasting techniques for different sizes and types. After that procedure, the beans are separated from the hull using a custom-designed machine that is actually an adaptation of a brewing machine, originally designed to crush malt and barley; an engineer friend remade the machine to work perfectly for cacao beans. The crusher is hand cranked and an actual person oversees this and every other step. Because nothing besides sugar is added to the Mast Brothers beans, close monitoring makes all the difference as the beans are conched to a liquid and then carefully heated to make a smooth and glossy confection.
Once the chocolate is perfected and hardened, the attention to detail that the Mast Brothers are known for continues in the packaging process. There is no automated machine anywhere on the Mast Brothers factory floor. The bars are even hand-wrapped in both a foil and heavy paper, printed with quaint designs.
Mast Brothers Chocolate sells only dark chocolate bars, ranging from 70% to 81% cacao solids. The bars are sold at the Brooklyn factory, as well as several New York shops and eateries. A website makes Mast Brothers chocolate available to the general public, though products are only shipped to U.S. locations. However, European retailers are starting to carry the confections, including Paul A. Young in Britain.
This is one of the best food related videos I’ve ever seen. Find out more about the brothers:
You can connect with the Mast Brothers online at: