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Jane and the chocolate factory: on the making of Mason & Co Chocolate from Auroville

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Tracing the journey of vegan dark chocolate from bean to bar in Auroville

It feels like a scaled-down version of the chocolate room in Willy Wonka’s factory; only it’s not an Oompa-Loompa at the winnowing machine, but a soft-spoken Mahalakshmi who shyly smiles at my friend and me. We've finally reached our destination — Mason & Co.









We’re in Auroville, where it’s easy to get lost. On our way, the GPS showed the car floating in the middle of nowhere, and the clipped tone of the navigation guide insisted that we head straight — into a thicket of bushes. The red dust road seemed never-ending and we caught the occasional glimpse of Matrimandir as it shimmered in the late afternoon sun. We were looking for “Fraternity” (without the faintest idea of what it was), till we finally saw a tiny signboard for the place.



Now that we’ve arrived, we take in the heady aroma of chocolate as Jane Mason greets us, and offers to give us a tour of her tidy and organised two-room unit. “More of an explanation, really. We’re quite a small operation,” laughs the co-founder of the bean-to-bar, single-origin dark chocolate brand that has been making a mark among connoisseurs in the country. The organically-grown cocoa beans sourced from Indian farmers, are made without preservatives or emulsifiers and are vegan.

After moving to India four years ago to pursue her passion for yoga, the 35-year-old Australian raw food chef who is a vegan herself, found that she could not eat any chocolate available in the country as they all contained dairy products. “I also found that the preservatives used marred the original taste of the chocolate; and if you’re used to good artisanal chocolate, you can’t eat anything else.”

That led her to experiment with chocolate as a hobby. Soon friends who tasted her efforts encouraged her to sell it.

But it was not something Jane could get into overnight. It took two years of research, after which she found one cacao farmer in Tamil Nadu who would work with her. “They’re used to cultivating for the mass production market, where it’s quantity over quality. A lot of farmers refused to work with us as they felt it was too much work to grow the beans organically and with the focus on the quality of each bean. Currently, we work with two farmers in Tamil Nadu and one in Karnataka, visiting their farms often and teaching them methods, telling them what we didn’t like about the taste of a certain batch and what they could do to fix it,” she says.



Eating dark chocolate the right way
- Never eat it right out of the fridge: let it rest for a few minutes till it softens.
- Don't bite into the chocolate: break off a piece, then place it on your tongue.
- Let the chocolate melt in your mouth, quite literally: this will allow the cocoa butter in the chocolate to coat your tongue and reduce the astringent or bitter taste that many complain about while eating dark chocolate.
- Enjoy!


One side of the room is piled high with huge gunny bags bulging with beans from the different farmers, and Jane reaches into one, grabs a handful and spreads them out on the table that’s the centre of all the action in the factory. She eliminates some for being too flat, too small or broken, and picks one that seems just right to her. She splits it down the middle with a knife to show a perfect bean. “We do a quality check of about 300 beans per batch and get a percentage. Everything is tested by hand, and we can tell how they’ve been processed. We have a particular standard below which we send the beans back; that didn’t go down very well with the farmers in the beginning! The average mould content was 15 per cent when we started out with our first farmer. Now it’s down to less than one per cent (international standards are around 4 per cent),” says Jane proudly.

After this initial cleaning, the beans are hand sorted for quality and then by size for even roasting. Then it’s on to winnowing with the help of a machine, and the shells that escape are picked out by hand. This then goes into a temperature-controlled stone grinder for up to three days, resulting in a silky smooth concoction that contains the cocoa beans, organic sugar (sourced from farmers in North India) and cocoa butter made from the same beans as the rest of the chocolate. This shiny and mesmerising liquid is then tempered on a cold slab to stabilise the chocolate. The process is usually taken care of by Saraswathi, who has been with Jane since she started out. They are then moulded and packed by hand, ready for the market.

“I was told I was mad to create dark chocolate in India. But I felt quite strongly about it and decided to go ahead anyway,” smiles Jane, as she takes out some of the regular flavours and guides us through a tasting of 65 per cent and two different 75 per cent chocolate, ending with one of their limited editions. “A hiker in Peru came across a cocoa tree that had been untouched for hundreds of years. I got my hands on five kg of the beans and made a batch. We lost money on that, but I just wanted people to know that this is what chocolate can taste like,” she says. And it is, indeed, divine.

The flavours available now are coconut milk, cashew, chilli and cinnamon, sea salt, bittersweet and orange, with ginger in the pipeline. Apart from this, they also produce cacao powder, cacao nibs and a tisane (a chocolate herbal tea infusion). Jane says, “I’m a fan of locally produced products, so the flavours depend on what’s around me. And although the focus is on Indian farmers, we like to bring in international flavours as limited editions from time to time.”

For Jane, chocolate-making is both an art and a science. “Fabien, my husband handles the technical aspect, while I handle the creative side. He got involved just by seeing all the work that went on in our kitchen before we got the space for a factory,” she laughs. While their artisanal chocolate bars are available in several stores all over the country and can be ordered online, they plan to set up their own outlet in Puducherry soon.

Did she ever imagine that this is what she would be doing someday? Jane says, “When I moved here, I did not think I would end up being a chocolatier. It was just a natural progression.”

(With inputs from Apoorva Sripathi)

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 11:52:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/on-the-making-of-mason-co-an-artisanal-organic-vegan-chocolate-from-auroville/article7512211.ece

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