In Brooklyn, a culture of refined chocolate making, using the finest cacao beans sourced directly from farmers in Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa, is on the rise. The last decade alone has seen the emergence of Williamsburg’s Mast Brothers Chocolate and Fine & Raw Chocolate, Boerum Hill’s Nunu Chocolate, Sunset Park’s Tumbador Chocolate, and more recently, Clinton Hill’s Raaka Virgin Chocolate and Red Hook’s Cacao Prieto.
Perhaps more than anything, chocolate is the food of love. Chocolate famously contains the hormone the brain produces when falling down the rabbit hole of love. This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, photographer Valery Rizzo takes us on a tour inside the chocolate factories at Mast Brothers Chocolate, Cacao Prieto and Raaka Virgin Chocolate.
Mast Brothers Chocolate, Williamsburg
American bean-to-bar hand-crafted chocolate at Mast Brothers Chocolate in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Mast Brothers Chocolate buy their beans directly from small organic cacao farmers, whom they regard as family, from the Dominican Republic, Belize, Papua New Guinea, Peru and Madagascar.
Rob Alvarez hand-wrapping and stacking some of the day's finished chocolate bars - the 70% Cacao, Almond & Sea Salt bars. Biodynamic almonds from the Anderson family Farm in California are roasted in Frankie's 457 Organic Olive Oil and seasoned with Maine Sea Salt.
The Mast Brothers, Rick and Michael, have a love affair with the spirit of craft, history and adventure. They have become the faces of an era of artisan food makers in Brooklyn.
Cacao beans from Madagascar. Mast Brothers Chocolate produces organic hand-crafted Chocolate Bars, Chips, Tablets, Cacao Nibs, pastries and confections, using local ingredients whenever possible.
All bars are made with two ingredients - organic cacao beans and cane sugar, and are 70 - 75% Cacao. The one exception is the Crown Maple bar which is made with maple sugar instead of cane.
Molds are used to shape the tops of dark chocolate bar, while other ingredients like almonds hide beneath.
Jimmy Lyons preps the raw cocoa beans on baking sheets before roasting them in a convection oven. Cacao Pods together with beans from Peru and Madagascar. Cacao beans were used as currency by the Aztecs and considered food of the gods.
Chocolate makers Mikhail Garbinsky and Jimmy Lyons sort through the beans before roasting, removing any leaves or twigs and discarding them in a bowl. They roast in small batches to ensure quality and to minimize the risk of over-roasting the cacao. After roasting, the beans are cooled by fan.
After roasting, then cooling, the beans are put into a winnower, where the husks are separated from the cocoa nibs to prepare them for grinding. Instead of discarding the husks, other Brooklyn food makers are finding use for them. Kings County Distillery has created a Chocolate Whiskey and P&H Soda Co. a chocolate soda syrup using Mast Brothers' left-over husks.
Chocolate maker Dan Derby grinds the cocoa nibs together with cane sugar in the grinding room, which now houses 15 stone grinders. The chocolate is left to grind for about 2 days.
After grinding, the chocolate is left to age in metal bins anywhere from two weeks to a couple of months. Chocolate maker Bakary Sise cuts chunks of aged chocolate and adds them to a melting tank or temperer to melt down for bars. At left, chocolate molds ready to be cleaned after the bars have been removed.
The chocolate factory offers tours and also holds various events, pairings, cooking demos and classes.
Haley Dekle wrapping and sealing a bar with labels containing ingredient details and tasting notes. At right, stacks of 74% Cacao, Pecan & Maple bars, which are made with slow-roasted and caramelized organic American Native pecans with Crown Maple Syrup from the Catskills.
Alexis Rose hand wrapping each bar first in gold foil wrap and then a beautiful paper which has the feel of old butcher's paper. The paper is designed by fellow chocolate maker, friend and designer Sean Walker.
At the the Mast Brothers' factory shop, There are 19 beautiful bars to choose from with flavors like Stumptown Coffee, Serrano Pepper, Black Truffle, Brooklyn Blend, Sambirano Valley, Moho River, Dried Cranberry, La Red de Guaconejo, and many more.
Derek Herbster holding Cacao Pods. Inside the tasting room and test kitchen Mast Brothers offers chocolate samples from the 5 different origins from which they source their cocoa beans.
Mast Brothers Chocolate also crafts Dark Chocolate Bonbons, with Salted Caramel, Liqeur and Coffee varieties.
Hand-rolled hazelnut, almond and cocoa nib truffles, Gianduja and macaroons and confections can also be found in their tasting room and test kitchen. Vesa Parviainen, their renowned pastry chef, is from Finland.
In honor of Saint Valentine they have handcrafted a heartbreakingly delicious collection of chocolate bars and confections. The bottom box contains 5 of their craft bars, 3 single origin bars and 2 'inclusion' bars. The top box contains classic cherry cordials, chocolate macaroons, pecan praline and almond chocolate cake confections.
Cacao Prieto, Red Hook
Red Hook-based Cacao Prieto's 100% organic, bean-to-bar chocolates, are hand-crafted daily from the finest organic, single-origin Dominican cacao. Cacao Prieto also distills a line of small batch, cacao-based liqueurs and rums.
Their cocoa beans come from their own self-sustaining family farm, Coralina Farms, in the Dominican Republic. Their 'mélange' or giant stone grinder is an 1895 Lehman model that came from the now closed Scharffen Berger factory. The granite wheels roll over the nibs, pulverizing them and forming a paste known as liquor.
Inside a barrel of freshly ground cocoa nibs.
Sales manager Alex Clark using their Vortex Winnower to separate the nibs from their husks. The machinery was invented by, produced by and sold by their sister company, Brooklyn Cacao.
The factory uses an impressive industrial gas-fed Sirocco roaster to roast their beans. The beans rotate in the sphere above as they roast evenly and are then deposited into a cooling chamber at the bottom.
Roasted cacao beans. Founder and CEO, Daniel Prieto Preston, is an inventor and aerospace engineer whose family has been farming organic cacao and sugar cane in the Dominican Republic for more than 100 years.
Cacao Prieto also produces chocolate liqueurs and light and dark cacao-infused rums, all made from organic Dominican sugar cane and cacao beans from the Prieto family's farm. Widow Jane is one of their Whiskeys made using water from the Widow Jane Mine in Upstate New York.
Heirloom varietals of American organic corn are used for their bourbons and whiskeys.
The factory distillery houses a copper 1000 liter still and is the first and only rum distillery in NYC since prohibition. Cacao Prieto produces 5 different varieties of organic, 72% dark chocolate fruit and nut bars, as well as 12 varieties of bonbons.
Cacao Prieto's bars each include limited-edition postcards illustrating the Prieto family history. The cards are illustrated by local Brooklyn artist Sophie Blackall.
Rum Caramel, Hazelnut Cassia, Toasted Coconut, and Honey Caramel Bonbons are the work of Chocolatier Damion Badalamenti. The bonbons are made with organic nuts, Cacao Prieto's own artisan liquor and hand-made caramel.
The factory also houses an adjoining bar named Botanica which is known for its cocktails. Botanica will be re-opened on April 1st and leads a double life as an event space.
Each postcard includes a story on the back...Esteban Santos Prieto Casas was studying to become a priest when he set sail from Spain to America in 1898. On the way he was distracted by the sight of Blanca Maria del Carmen. He jumped ship in the Dominican Republic, proposed and the two settled, where they had nine children, grew cacao, sugarcane and distilled rum.
Cacao Prieto's factory store front will be opening April 1st in Red Hook and they currently have a pop-up shop open, from February 10th through February 14th, at 55 Prince Street in SoHo, for all your Valentine's Day shopping needs. Above, a mural across from the Red Hook factory, painted by Brooklyn artist Sebastian Gross Ossa.
Raaka Virgin Chocolate, Clinton Hill
Raaka Virgin Chocolate delivers flavors you don't find in other chocolates because they make their chocolate without roasting the cacao beans - this is why they call it Virgin Chocolate. It's handmade using primarily organic ingredients, and is vegan, nut and gluten-free.
A wall of chocolate molds and other utensils ready for use. Nate Hodge, at right, is co-founder, together with Ryan Cheney, of Raaka.
Raaka sources cocoa beans that have been directly traded with La Red Guaconejo (a co-op of 160 family farms in the northern Dominican Republic), Hacienda Elvecia (an organic farm in eastern Dominican Republic), and CIAAB (a co-op in Bolivia).
The three types of cocoa beans used, La Red, Hacienda and Blancos. With plans in 2012 to visit Haiti and develop their first trade agreement with a cacao farming community there, Raaka is working to build a new model for trade agreements that maximizes global trade's potential for community development.
Blancos Cacao beans, when eaten raw are very herbal and have hints of pine, green tea and licorice root. The La Red ferments longer than average cocoa resulting in strong fruity and spicy notes, with hints of bing cherry, allspice, orange peel and black raspberry.
Nate pouring beans into the Winnower, which removes the husk from the cocoa nibs. All of the husks are later donated to Edible Schoolyard NYC, an after-school gardening program at P.S. 216 in Brooklyn, where the husks are used as mulch and fertilizer.
An inside view of one of Raaka Virgin Chocolate's four chocolate grinders.
Organic freeze-dried blueberries used in Raaka's Blueberry Lavender bar. South African Green Rooibos and Honey Bush tea are ground into a fine powder before being added to the chocolate for the Vanilla Rooibos bar.
Guajillo peppers are ground together with Aji Amarillo chiles and a touch of cinnamon to create Raaka's Chili bar.
For Raaka's Cask Aged Bourbon bar, cocoa nibs are aged in oak baby bourbon barrels from Tuthilltown Spirits, one of the first small whiskey distillery is in New York State. They also have plans to acquire Cabernet barrels to produce a wine-infused chocolate. At right, Nate depositing chocolate into the molds from the temperer.
After being chilled in the molds, the bars are removed and each bar is shaped to perfection before being hand wrapped and sealed. The excess chocolate is either melted down with the next batch or used for samples.
Livingston Ordway wrapping batches of coffee bars, cut and prepped by Jim Goose.
Each of Raaka's seven bars are wrapped in paper designed by designer and friend Elissa Barbieri at Loop. Loop’s paper is printed with soy inks on FSC-certified, 100% post-consumer recycled, chlorine-free paper that was processed by wind generated energy.
Nate Hodge with Danielle Lawrence, director of sales, in the office. Raaka Virgin Chocolate also produces smaller coffee bars - those at right were found at Café Grumpy in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
All photos © Valery Rizzo. All rights reserved.
Valery Rizzo is a Park Slope-based photographer with a love of good food and all things Brooklyn. You can find more of her work on her website, and follow her food adventures on her photo blog, Eating Brooklyn.