Rhowena and the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory
I learned of Mast Brothers oddly enough through a gardening workshop I attended. The reason being that they donate their cocoa shells to local gardeners in know to be used as mulch. The shells are not only a great soil protector keeping in moisture etc but they also prevent cats and other animals from digging up beds. Genius! I love my cat to bits but it is hard work keeping her off my planting areas!
My foodie brain got to thinking that a trip to the Shoredich factory in East London would be worth a visit, and then I started learning all about the Mast Brothers and went on a lovely aromatic and delicious tour of the small artisan chocolate factory.
Originating in New York USA the two Mast brothers Rick and Michael founded this wonderful specialist chocolate company in 2007 after much experimentation in their home kitchen. What was and still is important to the brothers is making a product which is superior in the chocolate making stakes. It all starts with the beans, which are organic and produced by farmers growing very best beans. The farmers that the Mast Brothers source their beans from are paid twice as much for their efforts as fair trade farmers.
Everything that happens to the beans, they way they are fermented and dried has a profound effect on the way the chocolate tastes at the end of it’s production. For example, in Papua New Guinea where humidity levels are too high to dry the beans in the regular way they use a smoker, the flavour of which is quite distinct in the finished product.
Once the sacks of dried beans arrive at the factory the shells need to be cracked, and then like with wheat husks, need to be separated from the cocoa nips which is done these machines here.
The Shoredich factory have cleverly re-purposed this rice winnower for the job. Each of the cocoa nips contain 50% cocoa butter and 50% cocoa solids. The nips have a very bitter taste raw and so they are spun in vats for three days with 25% quality brown sugar by Billingtons.
Now it’s starting to look more like chocolate, and after three days in these vats where all of the parts are emulsified together, it has a smooth texture and tastes sweet with pronounced undertones which vary depending on where the beans are from. I tasted the Peru beans which have a lovely fruity flavour running through them. It is during this process where any additional flavouring will be added such as chilli, coffee, sea salt etc or milk for the milk chocolate varieties.
The chocolate is then poured into plastic trays, set and then wrapped in paper and stacked on shelves to mature, much like cheese. Once the chocolate has matured and the flavours given time to mellow, it looks quite unattractive with a powdery and lumpy texture. Tastes absolutely fine, just doesn’t look great. So to achieve the beautiful texture and colour we are familiar with, the chocolate has to be tempered. This process melts the chocolate to a very precise temperature and is hand poured into bar shaped trays.
This small factory is able to produce up to a maximum of 720 bars of chocolate a day. They are very special bars because of the careful selection process of the organic beans, the hand craft that goes into making them and the fact they contain no additional additives or any other junk that is so often added to food products to enhance taste and give it shelf life.
At the tasting, the best bit of any tour, I tried Madagascan and Papua New Guinea dark chocolates, Goats milk chocolate and cows milk chocolate with sea salt, and lastly chilli pepper dark chocolate. I thought the Papua New Guinea one was the most interesting and unusual with it’s smokey flavour which remained prominent. I also very much liked the milk chocolate made with goats milk, it had a real nice tang to it. They also make a sheep milk chocolate which I will be interested to try when I go back to stock up on my supplies!
I would highly recommend doing the tour, it was most interesting and the smell of the chocolate as you walk round is just incredible. They run two tours on week days and four per day at the weekends. It only takes around 30 mins to go round and costs just £10. Find more information about Mast Brothers at their website.
You can also buy their delicious chocolate bars from Harvey Nichols, Fenwick and Whole Foods.