While visiting Brooklyn over Memorial Day weekend I stopped by Mast Brothers craft chocolate factory in Williamsburg. In the pristine white tiled building a small team of chocolate makers roast ethically sourced cacao beans, separate the husk from the cacao nibs through a process called winnowing, and then grind the nibs using stone grinders.
Chocolate dates back to pre-hispanic Mexican civilizations and in rural parts of Oaxaca, little has changed in the way that it is prepared and enjoyed since those times. The process used by Mast Brothers also pays homage to traditional Mexican methods of chocolate making.
Their modern interpretation of this age-old process is to use multiple vats that have stone disks grinding the cacao nibs 24 hours a day, for up to three days to churn the chocolate into a smooth constancy. It is this part of the process that sets Mast apart from large-scale chocolate producers who add other stabilizers to the mix for ease and consistency.
In Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, the dried cacao beans are brought in from other regions of the country that have a better environment for growing the crop. The women roast small batches of the cacao beans on a comal, or clay cooking surface, over an open fire and then remove the by husks off by hand. They then take up the strenuous task of grinding the nibs into a fine consistency using a metate, or stone grinder. A few coals placed under the metate ensures that the mixture stays warm enough to work with. Sugar, and sometimes cinnamon or almonds are added at this point.
At Mast, the chocolate mixture, which by then includes sugar and perhaps Stumptown coffee beans or dried chili added, is cooled, and aged for up to two months. Similar to aging wine, flavors change over this time, with some mellowing, and others growing more prominent. The chocolate is then tempered, which means melted and kept at a controlled temperature, then made into bars for cooking, eating and enjoying.
In Oaxaca, the chocolate is typically mixed with hot water and/or milk and enjoyed steaming in the morning along with a sweet yolk bread called pan de yema.
Regardless of the way in which it is prepared, what remains consistent from a small town in Oaxaca, to a modern factory in Brooklyn, is the delicious smell and taste of chocolate.