Cacao Prieto, is probably Red Hook’s best kept secret. The chocolate factory in the heart of industrial Brooklyn, has quietly been making chocolate bonbons for private parties and to the public in its pop-up shop in DUMBO. Although, the pop-up shop closed at the end of the Spring season, the Red Hook factory is poised to open it’s doors to the public this summer.
What makes it unique is not just the location of the factory, but the origin of its beans. Open since 2010, Cacao Prieto proudly sources its organic beans from owner Daniel Preston’s family owned plantation in the Dominican Republic.
From there, the beans undergo a unique fermentation process that uses semi-sterile techniques to make it ready for the cocoa bean process in New York. Once in New York, the beans get shelled and winnowed down to a nib. The nib gets ground down and then fats and sugars get added to make it into what we expect chocolate to be.
Damien Badalementi, Cacao Prieto’s Head Confectioner explains the process and why their way is the only way to appreciate fine chocolate. But don’t mistake him for an Oompah-Loompah. Unlike the legendary Roald Dahl created chocolate factory workers, Damien prefers sophistication and flavor over candymaking fables and hijinks.
If you’ve ever bought a chocolate bar from the store and there is a white film on it. This is common most people have had this experience, there’s a white film on it. You take it you put it in your mouth. It doesn’t melt very well, it doesn’t melt very smooth and easy it takes a long time, it’s kind of like not very pleasant in the mouth. That’s because the crystal state has been altered. That’s because it’s probably been sitting on a shelf in a bodega, and the bodega is like 85 degrees in August. And then you go buy that chocolate bar and that crystal state has shifted because of the heat. So what we want to be able to do is preserve that delicious 5th Crystal state. It’s delicious!
What’s unique about us is one we’re in NYC. New York used to have a very large confectionary industry, Brooklyn in particular. Like most of the industries in NYC, the industries are gone. Red Hook, uniquely was one of the main cacao importation ports in North America.
You’ve got this bean and I have taken the shell off, very gently. Now the bean is still quite whole. But if you get real close, you know that there are patterns. They’re almost like fracture marks in there. And if I were to apply a little bit of pressure, It’ll break along those lines.
If you notice, here there is shell and nib all together. We put it through here. This is a unique design and where some of the James Bond aspect with Daniel comes from. He’s an engineer and he designed this as a concept. Through vacuum and centripetal force it separates the shell, which collects here from the nib, which collects here.
You lose your sense of smell you lose your sense of taste. As anybody with a cold or a flu will tell you, you can’t taste anything. You can bring it to your nose you can get that general cacao flavor, and that’s a beautiful thing. What I have done here is taken on it and expanded on it. Now, there is a strong flavor smell. That’s something kind of playful. I like it.
To be honest with you, that’s not really me. With my work, I am not so kid oriented, I am not so whimsy oriented. I guess you could say, I like a little bit more sophistication and modernity, that’s what I like.
What’s going on is there is this sort of renaissance in chocolate making, in the United States. A lot of this has been spawned by the fact that for the first time, the machinery is small enough and affordable enough for smaller manufacturers. Chocolate has never really been, chocolate has only been around since the 19th century. It has always been an industrial product.
What’s great about this is there’s a huge smell factor. Because I have inlaid the cinnamon, you can take this right to the nose. So now you can smell it first, create the essence of the cassia, then you eat it.