Run by duo Jane and Fabien, Mason & Co. is completely staffed by women artisans who produce chocolates right from the bean to the bar in Auroville.
Jane Mason and Fabien Bontems, a lawyer and a sound engineer respectively, came together in the Indo-French town of Pondicherry in Southern India, to set up a organic, single-origin chocolate business, Mason & Co.
Being trained as a chocolate maker and a raw food chef, Jane has always harbored love for good-quality vegan dark chocolate. The couple realised that there was no good-quality dark chocolate made in India so they decided to make their own, and founded Mason & Co. in 2014.
Nearly six years ago, her love for yoga brought Jane all the way from Australia to India. Being a vegan, Jane realised that she could not indulge in the chocolates being made here in India as they all were made of dairy products.
To her further dismay, the chocolates were mostly made from preservatives, which spoiled the original taste of the chocolates. That’s when she decided to make her own range of homemade, organic, vegan, dark chocolates.
Jane along with her partner, Fabien, who has lived in India for most of his life, began to research the cacao industry in India and began to visit farms to understand the local market. They started buying small amounts of beans and making chocolate at home, experimenting with the different beans to assess flavour and quality.
Nearly after two years of research and their love for bean-to-bar, organic chocolate saw the business expand from this home laboratory into an artisan factory.
The most important step in chocolate making is arguably what happens to the cacao once it is harvested from the tree and before it reaches our factory,says the 37-year-old Jane.
"This process (fermentation and drying), is extremely important in determining quality of the bean and developing flavour. This is where we get involved and provide training on post harvest processing to our farmers to ensure the highest quality beans. We learnt this process though years of work on the farms and through mentoring from some industry experts in the US, France and Venezuela,” she adds.
For Jane and Fabien, who were insistent on finding a farmer who would produce cacao organically, it was a difficult task. Most cacao farmers sell the produce to mass chocolate companies, whose main concern is quantity rather than quality. The two years of research led to the discovery of a cacao farmer in Tamil Nadu who was ready to work with Jane and produce organically grown cacao.
We work closely with organic cacao farmers in South India to source, harvest and process some of the best quality beans this country has to offer. The type of chocolate we make requires the highest standard of cacao processing because any ‘off flavours’ cannot be masked by excess sugar, milk or preservatives, says Fabien.
Mason & Co. also ensures that the products are of single-origin, meaning that that every cacao bean in a bar of chocolate comes from the same region or even the same farm. By using single-origin beans they ensure purity in flavour dedicated to a specific region and also ensure farmer traceability in the process.
In addition to being a completely organic and vegan production unit, Mason & Co., a self-funded initiative, also ensures sustainability in terms of the workforce in the production unit, by employing local and rural woman artisans. The various chocolate-making processes like the sorting, winnowing, tempering and packaging are non-mechanised and done by hand. The all-female team of local village women is trained in the art of chocolate making.
Mason & Co. produces a different range of products, from organic dark chocolate of varied percentages and flavours to cacao nibs, sweet cacao nibs, cacao powder, drinking chocolate and a herbal chocolate tea.
“We mainly supply to the Indian market. We have a huge range of people that enjoy our chocolate from all walks of life. We have been extremely humbled by the positive response to what we do. Initially people told us that we were crazy to make dark chocolate in India. However there was certainly a demand for it,” says Mansi Reddy, arketing Manager at Mason & Co.