It's the chocolate world's biggest scandal since Charlie learned the man he thought was Mr. Slugworth was really a secret informant for Wonka the whole time.*
The bearded Mast brothers of Brooklyn, Rick and Michael -- long dismissed by chocolate connoisseurs but popular amongst the artisanal chocolate-eating world -- were called out for making "bean-to-bar" chocolate. They were allegedly selling products made with melted Valrhona bars in their early days and hiding that fact in their marketing.
While they claim to have always been transparent about their chocolate, critics say their marketing was disingenuous.
"That smacks of fraud," Dallas-based blogger Scott Craig wrote earlier this month in a four-part series titled What Lies Behind The Beards. "It doesn’t matter whether all or some lesser percentage of the chocolate the Masts sold was remelted. The scandal is that any of it was, just as it would be if Tiffany & Co. substituted cubic zirconia in any diamond engagement rings."
They've been called the Milli Vanilli of chocolate-makers and the Martin Shkreli of candy price-gouging hucksterism.
In an open letter on Mast's site, the brothers responded to the scandal by saying they'll continue to opt out of industry events, because the "mean-spirited takedown" does not make them feel like the chocolate industry is one "that we wish to be a part of."
Scandal aside, it's often claimed that Mast Brothers chocolate -- which sells for about $10 a bar -- is popular thanks solely to its pretty packaging, the fact that it's chocolate, and the words "Made in Brooklyn" (which seems to mean something to people at the checkout line). We wanted to see if the taste of this artisanal chocolate stood up on its own, without all that good-looking branding.
We put a couple of Mast bars (sheep and goat milk), next to other milk chocolate bars from Hershey's, Godiva, Cadbury, Lindt and yes, even Valrhona, in a blind taste test to see if our editors could tell the difference between the artisanal "bean-to-bar" chocolate and commercial brands -- and to find out which one they liked best.
Most tasters knew Hershey's when they tasted it, saying it reminded them of Hershey Kisses. Valrhona was the most popular; tasters said they "loved the creamy texture and mouthfeel," describing it as "super milky" and "so silky." The Mast chocolate?
“Tastes like actual blue cheese. Gross. Way too earthy.”
Both bars were the least liked of the seven.
"Wow. I have never NOT liked chocolate before, and this is a first," one taster wrote. Another immediately spat out a piece of the bar made with sheep's milk. "I put my head in a trash can for that one," she said.
Sure, this isn't a scientific study by any means, and Mast's goat and sheep milk chocolate was definitely not as sweet as the other cow's milk options. But let our tasters' strong negative reactions speak for themselves. The Mast bars didn't seem to hold up when you take off all that fancy paper and Brooklyn attitude.
*In the Gene Wilder adaptation, Wonka had a man pretend to be Slugworth to test the kids to see if they would sell him Wonka's secrets. Charlie was the only one who passed the test, except he drank the bubble juice and floated into the ceiling fan and was almost disqualified from winning until he and Grandpa Joe defended themselves. They rode the elevator over Charlie's old house and into the credits.
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