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Nobody Could Have Predicted that $10 Artisanal Hipster Chocolate Bars Would be a Complete Fraud

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This is one of those cons where I both delpore and somewhat admire the con artists, given the marks:

Chocolate Experts Hate Mast Brothers.” In March I wrote a Slate story with that headline, and the past two weeks have proven just how deep that disdain runs. Starting on Dec. 7, a food blogger named Scott, who runs a site called Dallasfood.org, has published a four-part series alleging that when they started out, the Mast Brothers didn’t make their own chocolate. (I interviewed Scott for this article, but he asked that I not use his last name because he doesn’t want his blogging to affect his day job, which is not related to chocolate.) He calls the Mast Brothers the “Milli Vanilli of chocolate.” Scott’s claims raise a provocative question: What if the chocolate world’s poster boys of authenticity started out as big ol’ fakes?

The Mast Brothers, Rick and Michael, have always claimed to make their chocolate “bean to bar,” which means starting with raw cacao beans and painstakingly roasting, grinding, and tempering them into chocolate bars in small batches. However, Scott alleges that, when they started selling chocolate in 2007 and 2008, the brothers bought high-end chocolate from a commercial company, melted it down, and then packaged it as their own bars—a grave sin in the bean-to-bar world. Scott quotes expert after expert, on the record, who agree that seven years ago the bars had the hallmark taste and texture of commercially produced chocolate. “It had an overly refined, smooth texture that is a trademark of industrial chocolate,” Aubrey Lindley, the co-owner of specialty shop Cacao in Portland, Oregon, told Scott. “It also tasted like industrial chocolate: balanced, flavorless, dark roast, and vanilla.” In part 4, released on Wednesday, Scott quotes artisanal chocolate maker Art Pollard, who claims that Rick Mast admitted to him that he was using Valrhona for some purposes. Scott also relays the experience of chef Larry Gober, who asked Rick about sourcing in 2008. Gober says Rick replied that he and his brother “hope to be exclusively bean to bar by the end of the year.” At that point, however, the brothers had already been touting their “revolutionary” bean-to-bar chocolate in interviews. “That’s not how it works,” Scott writes. “You don’t operate a gluten-free bakery, if you merely hope to eliminate gluten from your baked goods at some future date.”

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In the summer of 2009, experts noticed that the chocolate started tasting radically different. “The distinctive traits of the cacao—bright, fruity, acidic—shone through, unfiltered and uncontrolled by conching,” Scott remembers. “The texture was coarse and muddy.” Lindley, the co-owner of Cacao, is more direct: “Most of the chocolate was simply inedible, by my standards.” Scott alleges that this is when the brothers actually started making their own chocolate.

Update (djw): If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and read the extremely entertaining 10 part take-down of “Noka Chocolates,” another fraudulent overpriced chocolatier misrepresenting themselves as chocolate makers, by the same food blogger. It starts here. Meticulous, detailed, educational, and utterly devastating.

…the Quartz story is indeed outstanding.

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