The Chocolate Factories of Brooklyn

Day Twelve 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
Behind the tasting room at Mast Brothers: sacks of cacao beans and staff wrapping chocolate bars.

Behind the tasting room at Mast Brothers: sacks of cacao beans and staff wrapping chocolate bars.

dec17IT’S BEEN TWELVE YEARS SINCE MASTER PASTRY CHEF Jacques Torres shocked the culinary world by quitting his high-profile job at Le Cirque to open a factory in DUMBO (DUMBO???) to make high-quality handmade fine chocolate. Who knew he’d eventually be joined by so many other adventurers in chocolate-making?

For Rick and Michael Mast, of Mast Brothers Chocolate, the adventure goes well beyond the distinctive flavor notes of their chocolate. Last year, to save energy and appeal to their environmentally aware customers, they sailed The Black Seal, a 70-foot schooner, down to the Dominican Republic to pick up 20 tons of organic cacao beans they were purchasing from small cacao farmers there—and sailed it back to Brooklyn.  There, in their Williamsburg factory, they roast, winnow, grind and age the beans to make their dark chocolate bars.

A mural across the street from the Cacao Prieto factory in Red Hook. The painting was commissioned from artist Sebastian Gross Ossa.

A mural, commissioned by Cacao Prieto from artist Sebastian Gross Ossa, across the street from its factory in Red Hook. When we went by the other night, it seemed to have survived Sandy quite well.

Daniel Prieto Preston, owner of Cacao Prieto in Red Hook, makes his bars and bonbons (and liquors) from beans and sugar cane grown on the cacao farm in the Dominican Republic that has been in his family for 100 years. But with an eye to vertically integrating his business, Preston, an aerospace engineer and an inventor with 100+ patents to his name, also designs and custom builds production machinery for chocolate manufacturing.

Raaka Chocolate makes its “virgin chocolate” an unusual way—with unroasted beans. Cacao beans present a tremendous variety of flavors, according to founder Ryan Cheney. “Virgin chocolate lets the different flavors really stand out.”

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A cacao pod, with beans visible inside, at the Raaka booth at Columbus Circle Holiday Market in Manhattan.

Cheney considers the cocoa farmers’ welfare part of his company’s mission: The farmers from whom Raaka purchases its beans receive at minimum $500 above market price per metric ton of beans, which at today’s cocoa prices is equivalent to a 20% raise. At the other end of the production, Raaka donates its leftover cocoa husks from the Clinton Hill factory to the  Edible Schoolyard NYC at P.S. 216’s after-school to use as mulch and fertilizer.

nunu-hokey-pokey1255Justine Pringle of Nunu Chocolates became a chocolate maker when she and her husband, Andy Laird, a musician, were trying to think of something more interesting than T-shirts to sell at his music shows. Before they knew it, chocolate making had taken over their life. They use a single-origin cocoa bean  from a sustainable and family run farm in eastern Colombia. Go to their tiny storefront on Atlantic Avenue, and you can sip a glass of wine or a brew or a hot chocolate (yes!) with a view of the chocolate making in the kitchen out back.

OK, OK, so you want to know about the chocolate. Here are some of our favorites, all carefully tasted by yours truly and her friends. With packaging that is “font-snob-worthy gorgeous,” as one writer put it, these chocolate bars make great gifts—or an affordable little luxury (usually $8–$10 for bars; $2/piece for bonbons). And besides, think of all those health benefits.

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Jacques Torres Chocolate snowman and santa for sale at the Dumbo store

Cacao Prieto’s Pistachio and Apricot bar, one of five very tasty fruit and nut bars, all made from 72 % dark chocolate. Can’t decide? Try the sampler with all five! Certified kosher.
—Available online or at the factory’s storefront in Red Hook.

Jacques Torres’s Chocolate Snowmen and Chocolate Santas. The 4-inch snowmen ($8) come in milk, dark or white chocolate, with contrasting decoration. The hollow giant Santa, in milk or dark chocolate with a beautifully detailed flowing white chocolate beard, stands more than a foot tall, and contains two pounds of chocolate ($45, or $25 for a medium-size one).
—Only available in the stores, since they are too delicate to ship.

Mast Brothers Chocolate’s Stumptown Bar and Salted Caramel Bonbons. Collaborations like this one with Stumptown Coffee Roasters lead to some great flavors. The caramel bonbon is not chewy, as I expected, just melt-in-your-mouth paradise. For a bar with seasonally appropriate hints of cranberry and cinnamon, stop by any Shake Shack for the special edition Mast Brothers made for them.
—Buy at the tasting room attached to the factory, online,or at stores like Dean & Deluca, The Chocolate Room, Brooklyn Larder, Whole Foods.

Nunu Chocolates’ Hand Dipped Salt Caramel bonbons and the Craft Beer or Booze-Infused Ganaches. The salt caramel is Nunu’s best seller, with fleur de sel sprinkled on top. Absinthe ganache? Mezcal chili? Who can resist? Nunu uses 53–65 % cacao in their chocolates, which they find goes best with the flavors they add.
—Order online  for pickup in the store or at these stores.

Raaka Chocolate’s 71% with Sea Salt bar and the Bourbon Cask Aged (83% cacao) bar. Sea Salt is Raaka’s most popular bar; the  bourbon bar is aged in Tuthilltown casks. Deservedly, we think, it’s up for a Good Food award.
—Buy online, at Whole Foods or markets and small groceries around town.

Cacao Prieto
218 Conover Street, Red Hook
347-225-0130

Jacques Torres Chocolate
62 Water Street, DUMBO
718-875-1269

Mast Brothers Chocolate
111 North 3rd Street, Williamsburg
718-388-2625

Nunu Chocolates
529 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
917-776-7102

Raaka Chocolate
Clinton Hill
917-340-2637

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design.The font is Mason, by Jonathan Barnbrook, Emigre, 1992.

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