On Saturdays at the Williamsburg Artists and Fleas Market, you can taste the latest addition to the artisanal chocolate craze. But Rick and Michael Mast, two lankily charming Iowa City–born brothers, will be the first to point out that their nascent business (operating, for the time being, out of a kitchen attached to Michael’s Williamsburg apartment; a store is slated to open a few blocks away this summer) is hardly about jumping on the bandwagon. “Man,” says Rick, smiling ruefully, “you know, we’ve been doing dark milk chocolate for about five, six months now. Pretty much since we started selling.” “And then,” Michael breaks in, “that Times piece comes out and it’s like everyone goes—wow! Dark milk chocolate! Who’d have thought it?”
The Mast Brothers’ version weighs in at 60 percent cacao, lending a lush complexity to the taste that quiets any fears of an aching Hershey’s-like sweetness. Their single-origin dark chocolates come in a spectrum of percentages, ranging from a midnight-hued 81 percent Venezuelan sprinkled with fleur de sel, to a 72 percent Ecuadorian bar that Rick describes as “big and full, like a cabernet or a shiraz,” down to a coffee bean–colored 66 percent Venezuelan bar he characterizes as something closer to a pinot noir. All are delicious. And lest any doubters out there start trash-talking the virtues of white chocolate, the Mast Brothers are doing their part to champion the underdog. Their “Wythe and Berry” bar combines creamy white chocolate with dried cranberries, pistachios and almonds. The label reads: “Some say that white chocolate isn’t chocolate at all. That’s weird, why does ours contain 35 percent cacao?” Good question.
Then again, the brothers are full of questions, like why can’t chocolate be as enjoyable to look at as it is to eat? Hand-wrapped in beautiful Italian paper and sealed with the brothers’ signature gold sticker, it can and is. Turning the tables last Saturday, I asked them a question of my own. Didn’t they have a charming anecdote for me, something to sum up their debut business venture together? There was a little pause. Michael, shame-facedly: “Yeah, well, we’re still kind of working on the whole PR thing.” He nudged my bars across the counter and smiled.