Above is a photo of me and my family at the Hersey’s chocolate factory, when we visited in 1999 on our way to Washington, DC. It was on the Chinatown travel agency tour itinerary that my mother had booked. Hersey’s is a giant American corporation that produces chocolate and quite frankly an American icon and somehow related to the American history component to the itinerary. Well, that’s my guess. I was only 13 at the time and had enjoyed Hersey’s cookies n’ cremes and occasionally a Hersey’s kisses. I have vague memories of the educational chocolate factory tour ride but do recalled it was given by computer generated pre-recorded videos, giant talking pixie-glass models, with loud children soundtrack in the background and concluding with a photo op to take home, which we did end up purchasing. Somehow looking back at the website, times have not changed at the Hersey’s Park.
Twelve years later, a different kind of American craft chocolate company is in motion, known as the Mast Brothers Chocolate. I was lucky enough to meet the owners recently, the brothers and chocolate makers Rick and Michael Mast. They have recently expanded in Williamsburg, North 3rd their production facility and wanted to give us a personal tour. I was rather star strucked, being fans of their work and chocolate already, I felt like Charlie in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory winning the golden ticket. When I arrived, the staff was creating an assembly line of hand wrapped Almond and Sea Salt Chocolate. This is not your perception of a sweatshop assembly line but made for efficiency. The staff was laid back with soul music on the record player, after all we were in Brooklyn and everyone was hard at work with deadline orders to meet. Each individually hand wrapped with a gold wrapping follow by beautiful textile patterns paper designed by friends and family of the Mast Brothers. It was remarkable to see production in action and I really admire how in a world so many occupations relies on advance technology and machinery for efficiency, there is simply nothing better and more beauty than the personal touch of the human hands.
In the room, many burlap sacks of cacao beans from their recent sailing trip to Dominic Republic piled in the room and where the cacao beans were roasted surprisingly no larger than a home kitchen oven. The latest holiday flavored chocolate bar with dried cranberries were in the making poured into their signature chocolate grid mold. Throughout the tour Rick Mast described the process from bean to bar with joy in his tone of voice, sharing his knowledge, the care, the thought process, of how direct trade cacao can make an impact in our environment. For instance, the concept of using the skin of the cacao beans after it has been roasted becomes waste but turning that unwanted waste for the local community garden as compost. It’s brilliant and more business models should be that way.
The next venture Mast Brothers Chocolate is looking into is expanding their line of chocolates with truffles and bon bons and their plans on the next sailing trip for more cacao. In the meantime, pay a visit to the Mast Brothers Chocolate tasting room or a take a tour of their newly expanded production facility, it may not be given by the brothers themselves but it’s definitely worth it.
MAST BROTHERS CHOCOLATE /// 105A North 3rd Street Brooklyn, NY 11249
text and images © iluvpotato 2011