I love chocolate. I’m not the type who feels guilty after eating chocolate, but instead eats it every day (and believes it should be its own food group at the top of the pyramid!).
As a chocolate-lover I’m very fortunate to live I’m Brooklyn, where we have numerous cocoa experiences that go beyond buying bars at a shop or ordering lava cake at a restaurant. The borough is home to 3+ Brooklyn chocolate factories offering diverse and delicious experiences that trace cacao story since its earliest known origins in Mesoamerica.
I’ve written about Mayan chocolate history, with this culture believing cacao was the “food of the gods.” While I don’t know of a place that makes the bitter cacao drinks loved so much by Montezuma and his people, Fine + Raw Chocolate in Bushwick focuses on raw and half-raw chocolates, a concept that’s been around since before ovens were invented.
Fine & Raw Chocolate is void of refined sugar, dairy and additives. Instead, they focus on using organic and natural ingredients to create innovative raw and half raw/half roasted bars, crafted on low heat (raw chocolate must be cooked below 140 degrees Fahrenheit) to preserve the cacao’s raw characteristics. Like wine, chocolate has terroir, and you should taste chocolate not just with your tongue, but with your eyes, nose, hands and ears (I was once told by an Australian chocolatier a fine piece of chocolate should have sound like the laughing of a young child when you snap it). At Fine & Raw Chocolate, the staff are happy to guide you in properly tasting their product.
Again, Fine + Raw Chocolate isn’t making the same chocolate treats as the Mayans, who drank the cacao as a bitter liquid, but they’re pulling on ancient ideas and giving them a modern twist, even infusing ingredients like almonds, coconut, vanilla, sea salt and blueberries into their recipes. They also get creative by doing things like stuffing their chocolates with real bonbons and infusing their chocolates with lucuma, a tropical Andean fruit.
Fast forward to the early 20th century and we’ve got Li-Lac Chocolates, which opened in Greenwich Village in 1923. In November 2014, they opened a production space in Sunset Park’s Industry City complex, right on the water. Their tagline is “stubbornly old fashioned,” as their 140+ chocolate items are handmade in small batches, using old world techniques and machinery.
I had the opportunity to tour the factory for myself recently, and it was fun seeing the Lucy and Ethel-style machinery, with chocolates being placed one-by-one on a conveyor belt and individually designed with a long metal rod. I also loved the antique molds they used and enormous chocolate sculptures decorating the open factory, allowing for visitors to see majority of the production aspects for themselves to better understand where their food comes from.
Many of their chocolates are made from original founder recipes, like my personal favorite, Hazelnut Truffle Squares, 3-layer square truffle with milk chocolate on the outsides and a hazelnut-infused dark chocolate center layer. According to Anthony Cirone, Co-Owner and President of Li-Lac Chocolates, it’s a recipe many other chocolate makers ask for, although they don’t share it.
In Williamsburg at Mast Brother’s Chocolate Makers we come to the present, with treats that focus on sustainably sourcing high-quality cacao beans from plantations around the world and crafting single-origin chocolate bars using modern methods. They’re also known for partnering with other ethical, high-quality brands, like Stumptown Coffee for their Mast Brothers Stumptown Coffee Chocolate Bar and Crown Maple Syrup for their Mast Brothers Crown Maple Chocolate Bar. Each bar is creatively wrapped in simple yet beautifully designed butcher paper, while cacao sacks are recycled to make hipster accessory bags.
They also worked with the local OddFellow’s Ice Cream in early 2014 to make a delicious Mast Brothers Hot Fudge Sundae, a work of art featuring three scoops of chocolate chunk ice cream sitting on a bed of chocolate soil, topped with fluffy chocolate cake, chocolate-infused whipped cream, chocolate beads and sauces of hot fudge and salted caramel.
Basically, Mast Brother’s is thinking ahead and exploring the limitless possibilities to get people excited about chocolate.
Mast Brothers’ also has an open factory for viewing, and visitors can take a 45-minute chocolate tour and tasting for $15. They also offer free bite samples of their bars to visitors.