Frenchy Cannoli, Master Hashishin
I was recently over in Germany (back in 2019) for the Berlin Bar Convent and while I was there, I led a panel on combining cannabis and intoxicating beverages. Afterwards I spent some time wandering around the city parks. I had many opportunities to purchase some European hashish, but I didn’t do it this time and it’s too bad because European hashish is completely different than most of the stuff that is called hashish in the United States. The last time I smoked some Middle Eastern hash, I was in Paris, and it was about twenty years ago. The little “Temple Ball” felt to my hands like warm oil and the fragrant cannabis flowers were softly pressed (all by hand) until they combined to make a paste, which was then further rolled into a tiny ball which got me really, really high. Like a wet wool blanket on a hot summer’s day. All enveloping.
The source of this hand-made hashish was impeccable, And this sample was not purchased in a park but came to me through some really tuned-in locals who knew the European hashish trade well and only smoked the very best.
It’s funny to me as a world traveler, just how relevant hashish is outside the USA, not just for recreational purposes, but for deeply sociological ones too. Most of it is smoked in cigarettes with really stinky, (to me) Turkish-style tobacco, a practice that I cannot enjoy because of my historic bias against tobacco. Thus, I’ve missed out on some incredible Middle Eastern hashish varieties for this reason. Tobacco just gives me a massive headache, especially with the addition of hashish.
The traditional hashish in Europe is completely different from the “Ice-Water method” of powdered hash found here in the USA. The powdered stuff is hash in name only. It doesn’t represent hash to me at all. I hardly ever see real hash in the United States. The experience is completely different, like the concept of terroir in fine wine. The taste of the place. It happens by osmosis.
When I found out about Frenchy and his techniques through a couple different sources, I set my canna-vision on contacting him. When I saw a picture of him, Frenchy immediately reminded me of the late Serge Gainsbourg, the infamous French musical raconteur, both wild and intriguing.
I knew we would be fast friends.
Frenchy, I cannot wait to share a smoke with you, mon amie.
Editor’s note: Frenchy left this earth on Sunday.
The same intellectual agility holds true for makers of gourmet hashish. But without further ado, may I please introduce, Frenchy Cannoli, Gourmet Hashish Master.
Warren Bobrow=WB: Please tell me about yourself. What is it that makes you the most renowned at your craft? Why Hashish?
Frenchy Cannoli=FC: Once upon a long time ago, I was a child dreaming of adventures, travels, and discovery, the child, grew to be a rebellious teenager holding on to his childhood dreams of adventures. Traveling the Silk Road, sailing the Red Sea, or sharing the life of tribes in the Sahara and the rain forest was more appealing than the 9-to-5 life my family and society wanted for me. My first experience with Hashish at 17 was a revelatory experience of pure and extreme wellness, joy, and pleasure. But, because Hashish was perceived by society as a dangerous drug, seeking a state of well being made me a reject, a danger to society, only the misfits of the world smoked Hashish in the early 70s and lengthy prison sentences were the deterrent of the time. The pressure of society on a rebellious teenager dreaming of adventures was bad enough, the pressure on a hashish smoker was unreal and unhealthy, and as soon as I became an adult, on my 18 birthday, I left France to travel the world, never looking back.
I’ll answer the third part of your question before getting back to my craft. Hashish is not only a part of the culture of producing countries, but it was also part of most western cultures since the 18th century. We simply don’t smoke the flower as you do in the U.S. The rest of the world focuses its cannabis consumption on the resin, so Hashish it is.
What is it that makes me the most renowned at my craft?
My love, passion, dedication, and attitude coupled with my scientific approach to traditional hashish methodology and my association of cannabis and Hashish with wine and wine-making, is what makes me stand out in the western world. The quality of the resin I work with is what makes me stand out in producing countries.
WB: How did you learn your craft? Is it something that is passed down from generations, like a great pastrami recipe? Do you have a mentor?
FC: I spend many years in the Hashish producing regions of the world. But I never had a mentor per se or look for one for that matter. The goal wasn’t learning at that time. I was young and clueless. Acquiring the finest quality Hashish available in the region was the goal. The quality I was seeking was never for sale. The highest grade of Hashish was kept for the family whose members have been smoking for generations. I spent months working alongside local Hashishins. And, while I wasn’t consciously learning the craft, I was nonetheless absorbing their knowledge and passion for it. The art of collecting trichome heads from live cannabis plants on one’s hands called making Charas in Northern India, or from dried and cured plants using a sieving methodology which is making Hashish, are very ancient practices that have been passed down over countless generations in producing countries. Traditional Hashishin knowledge is not based on science but on learned experience and cognizance spanning possibly the whole evolution of humanity.
I have never looked for any type of mentor in my life. I have always been too rebellious and independent for such dedication. However, I have had many teachers. I have been mentored by every family that ever shared their life and fields and harvests with me. Now, I hope today to close the circle and go back to share the knowledge I have gained since.
WB: What is your most memorable experience in the cannabis craft? Indoor or outdoor grown? Regions that are good for hash production? Countries?
FC: I don’t have to think long about that one. Collecting live resin from wild cannabis plants on my bare hands in remote valleys at the feet of the Himalayas has been by far the most engaging and extraordinary experience of my life. I did not have much contact with the live plants before I went to India. I always worked with bundles of dried and cured plants. The plant matter was of little importance, it was all about the resin. The tropical climate at the feet of the Himalayas makes drying cannabis plants to gather the resin an impossible task without electricity and modern technology like dehumidifiers, so the local practice is to collect resin on the palm of one’s hands. This is certainly the most ancient methodology devised by humanity to collect cannabis resin, the only tool necessary is your bare hands. It was truly a revelation to collect resin directly from living plants that first season in the Parvati valley. It was a full sensory epiphany that lasted weeks, and when it was time to get back to civilization, I knew that in the future that there was nothing that was going to keep me away from these valleys come September to late November and the first snows.
As a child, living a survivalist type of adventures in the wild was one of my dreams, so living in these remotes valleys was very enticing. Living in a cave or makeshift shelter at 8,000 feet for months at a time, days away from civilization is not the type of vacation most people would enjoy, but I thrived. I was not only living my childhood dream; I was also living a Hashishins dream. Collecting live resin is quite simple, remove the fan leaves from the plant. Caress the flowers gently between your hands. Clean your hands by brushing off any leaf matter that has stuck to them after rubbing each flower and start again. A layer of resin will build up on the palms of your hand, little-by-little with each plant worked. The first hand of Charas will be shiny and transparent. Slowly the color will darken as the layer thickens with each successive flower worked. To remove the resin from your hands, press and turn your thumb on the most resinous part of your other hand. Snap the resin off and repeat the process until your hand is clean, and your thumb holds all the resin mass. Change sides and repeat the process with the thumb on your other hand. It is a straightforward technique perfectly adapted to the region and the climatic conditions.
The technical part of collecting live resin is easy enough to share, the experience, on the other hand, is impossible to convey with mere words, but I’ll try. Imagine a small, remote valley, lushly green with a river coursing through the middle streaming from a chain of mountains topped with eternal snow. Imagine fields of semi-wild cannabis plants sporting every imaginable shade of color and fruit flavor with each plant expressing its own unique aroma. Imagine the feeling of collecting delicately, layer-after-layer of resin on your hands, going from flower-to-flower in the full heat of the tropics. Imagine a constant overload of terpenes so intense it feels like your whole body is absorbing the aromatic essence of the valley. The intensity and magic of the experience brought me back season-after-season, a place in my nomadic life where I could feel grounded. I truly belonged to those valleys.
With all the respect I have for growers in general, indoor plants are, in my eyes, a domesticated evolution of the wild landraces of the producing regions of the world at best. Like a dog is to a wolf, and in the worst-case scenario, an indoor plant is much like a caged animal.
WB: What are the differences in Hash? Are there gourmet varieties? Who makes them?
FC: The differences in Hashish are as diverse as the difference in the cultivars available today, and the growing regions of the past and present. When I was young, we had a limited choice of flavors. Our options were confined to the producing countries of the world – Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey/Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indian/Nepal. The cannabis plants in each of these countries had a very distinct terpene profile, specific and unique to each region. The diversity of cultivars and terpene profiles of today’s market has changed my world in a rewarding way. Every cultivar I work with transports me into a new reality. It is very much like traveling to a new producing country. Making Hashish from each of these new cultivars is a dreamlike adventure in foreignness and the most exciting and satisfactory experience I could have wished for my senior years.
A Hashishin is like a winemaker, a cheese-maker, or a three-star Michelin Chef. Our craft is to present an expression of the quality of the agricultural product we work with that is defined by the land, the climate, the genetics, and the farmer that grew the product.
WB: What is your passion?
FC: My passion is living a life that brings me joy and pleasure. Traveling was everything for 20 years. Then it was and still is fatherhood. However, I have carried the stigma as a Hashish smoker all my life. And, as much as it was part of the thrill of living outside the boundaries of society during my nomadic life it became a scary and dangerous pleasure when I became a father and I had to hide this aspect of my life from everyone but my wife and my dealer for fear of losing my family.
Hashish was the balm that healed my childhood scars. It has been the key to a feeling of belonging, of pure positive energy, of immense joy and purpose, and I would not relinquish it even if it were still considered evil in the eyes of society. So be it. I was seen as a pariah in society during my teenage years in Europe for smoking hashish. When I started to travel in producing countries where Hashish was part of the culture, and I was accepted. Then in India, it became spiritual, smoking cannabis resin is an act of devotion to the God Shiva. And, finally, I came to California and discovered that cannabis was actually a medicine. After all these years, Hashish has become much more than a grounding and benevolent force in my life, it has become my life.