Frenchy Cannoli has a lot more to teach the industry than how to make traditional pressed hashish.
On a recent Sunday near downtown Los Angeles, twenty or so sundry individuals gathered in a nondescript hydroponics shop at 9 a.m. to watch a wiry, 60-year-old Frenchman present a comprehensive workshop and demonstration called “The Lost Art of the Hashishin.” The teacher was Frenchy Cannoli, the celebrated craftsman who makes hashish in almost the same dry-sieving tradition used for generations in the ancient producing countries of Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
“The handicap with dry-sieving is that the trim is brittle,” he explained to the class in a thick French accent. “When you use water, you hydrate the trim so that it becomes supple again. The only evolution in the methodology of sieving resin, the only step forward, is using water.”
The student’s faces beamed. They felt privileged to be there, even if only some of them will use the expertise the master imparted. According to Frenchy, less than 1 percent of the 600 or so people who have taken his class have gone on to “show what they learned at a high level. For some, it’s enough to have the knowledge.”
Undeterred, over the next eight hours Frenchy tirelessly engaged the class in a lived-and-learned history of the information not found in books or taught in schools. Even during the lunch break, Frenchy continued to engage his new students, who crowded around him like eager fans, peppering him with respectful questions about hash-making; the demonstration would culminate later with tastings from Frenchy’s classic hookah.
Assisting in the demo was Lena, Frenchy’s young student from Los Angeles. His wife, Kimberly, checked in people and performed catering duties. The two live in the Bay Area and have one grown daughter. “Kimberly is the brain behind me,” said Frenchy. “I met her in 1980 in Nepal. We have done a lot together in those producing countries. Yes, we have done a lot together.”
Like a play, Frenchy’s life has unfolded in three acts. The first was Wanderlust. Born in the south of France to a peripatetic father and typical “after the war, south of France” mother, he spent his early years in Africa. Then, from age 7 to 12, he lived on the coast in Brittany “in the middle of nowhere,” before finishing his teenage years in France.
“I left when I was 18,” he said, laughing, “and I didn’t stop for twenty years.” Propelling him: a lust for adventure and knowledge. “All my life, I’ve been into traveling and reading. When I started to smoke, I had all the tastes and smells of the Thousand and One Nights stories, Marco Polo, and all those Persian, crazy, amazing adventures.” The other bug that had him in its grip was hashish.
“For you, cannabis is a flower; for us, it’s only the resin,” he said as a way of explaining the heritage of the hash culture in which he grew up. “My best friends were Persian, Moroccan, and Lebanese. They had stuff in their family that was not for sale. It taught me what quality is, and they taught me about resin and how to press.”
When he started traveling, his goal became finding the highest-quality resin in places where “you cannot buy that quality.” Of the years in self-imposed exile, he wrote on his website, “Traveling to distant places in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, visiting historical ruins and museums, learning traditions and sharing the local life, always seeking new experiences, feeding on the newness each culture presented was all I had dreamt about as a child and then some. My travels brought me to different producing countries, where I did most of my studies on cannabis resin with local hashishins who had been practicing their art for generations.
“I realize today how much trust and respect was given to the clueless-but-eager youth I was,” he continued. “I shared the life of local farmers from North Africa to the feet of the Himalayas in India and Nepal with only my passion for cannabis resin to open doors.
“A long time later, after a series of extended adventures in Japan and Thailand as a designer, I finally settled down in California, a coincidence that was to redefine my life.”
If movement defined the first act of his life, stasis defined the second. “When I came to the States, I didn’t move for twenty years,” he said. He and Kimberly had a daughter and raised her. “I was a restaurant manager, and I almost bought a restaurant. I was this close.” Cut off from the world he had known, hash-making was a dream of the past. But some dreams never die. Six years ago, their daughter came of age and old feelings that had lain dormant rekindled like a long-lost love.
“You have no idea,” he recalled. “For twenty-five years, every season I would dream of being in the Himalayas. It was bad, but my daughter compensated for everything.” Now the pathway was clear, but in the interim years he had picked up new habits—specifically, flower.
“Terroir, is the whole ecology of a vineyard: every aspect of its surroundings from bedrock to late frosts and autumn mists, not excluding the way a vineyard is tended, not even the soul of the vigneron.” —Hugh Johnson, in his foreword to James Wilson’s book, Terroir.
The Phoenix Rises
Financial considerations provided the first excuse to get back into cannabis. “I wanted to be able to grow for myself because I smoke a lot, and it was expensive,” said Frenchy. “I got a [doctor’s] card so that I could check some collectives.
“Then I grew my first harvest,” he added. “When I started to trim my flower closer, that’s when I made my first hash. Then I brought a chunk of it to a dispensary I liked, and the guy freaked out. He didn’t believe it was hash and not an extract. That’s when I started to realize.”
Lessons from the old days returned. “From everything I’ve learned over the years, the value of your resin is not because you made it, but where it comes from.” Cannabis culture in the States was profoundly different from that of his youth. “When I came to California, instead of it being the place where the cannabis grows and genetics was just local, on top of the terroir [completely natural environment], I had the genetics worked by the farmer. It became something more than just the wild plant in the mountains of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.”
Frenchy’s new direction required a complete reengagement with the plant. “I knew nothing about flower,” he said. “I knew the tool but not the product. Learning about the product gets you to the master level, and learning all the science behind the resin changed my game. Learning that the resin head was like a fruit was a game changer for me, big time. I learned so much that I realized I know nothing.”
In fact, the more he learned, the more driven he became. He traveled to the Emerald Cup to meet some farmers. “I hooked up with a guy who actually had won the Emerald Cup: Leo Stone from Aficionado,” Frenchy said. The rest is history. Frenchy and Aficionado have become inextricably connected even though they are ostensibly independent entities.
“I wanted a relationship with him like a winemaker with a vineyard,” said Frenchy. “At the beginning, my name wasn’t supposed to be on the package. It was supposed to be Aficionado by Frenchy. But Leo didn’t want people to confuse the hash with the genetics, so he made it Frenchy Cannoli.
“Up until now, the hash promoted the genetics,” he continued. “But a year or so ago, when legalization was in the future, we started to show packaged finished product.” Now those products are in demand, with a waiting list of shops eager to carry Frenchy’s hashish.
That was not always the case. “Six years ago, nobody wanted my pressed hash, but I would never sell unpressed resin,” said Frenchy. “In six years, I became who I am because I went to every event in the 215 Section and I smoked people out and I gave hashish to everyone who wanted to try it.”
Now he is famous, but controversy remains percolating below the surface. “They don’t make hash here,” he explained. “They collect resin, they sell loose resin head, but they don’t make hashish. Hashish is resin that has been sieved and pressed with the source of heat. That’s hashish. It’s sieved, not extracted. It is the full resin head intact that is pressed with the source of heat and becomes a mass of resin. That mass of resin is named hashish.”
Of the competing methods, he said, “When you reject tradition without checking the science behind it and put new tech on the market without checking the science behind it, it doesn’t fly. That’s not progressing. It’s going backward.”
The future for Frenchy and Aficionado appears limitless. “People put us on a pedestal and think we are big, but we are small and we just mind our own business,” said Frenchy. “We don’t want to play with the big boys; we just want to produce quality. Personally, my fight is to protect the NorCal farmer and for the people to understand that there is no cannabis industry without the farmer. The land we have, the farmers we have, the genetics we have, could literally create a market like the wine industry has seen. And there is a blueprint in history for how to go from a black market and create the Bordeaux equivalent of the cannabis industry in California.”
A huge believer in the potential for a legitimate appellation controlee in California, Frenchy’s unique perspective as an intellectual man of the world keeps him grounded in the real world. With a personal history of the producing countries of the world combined with his deep knowledge of the American cannabis market, he holds no undue illusions.
“Right now, the government is killing the goose that lays the golden egg,” he said. “The taxation on farmers is killing them. To kill the goose is not smart, but to starve the goose so that she goes to the neighbor? That’s a really big mistake, but it is what is going to happen. Do you know how many people want us to go somewhere?”
If Frenchy and Aficionado move, the treasure moves with them. “Do they think we give our best genetics when the patient world is looking at us?” he asked. “I don’t think so. If we move, we move with our best genetics to a producing country, and then watch us. The farmer doesn’t realize the power they have. I tell them, ‘You have everything. You hold all the cards. They have nothing, and they are trying to bullshit you. You just have to put your cards on the table and say, ‘That’s it.’”
He added quietly, “It’s already happening. The farmer can see what’s happening.”
No matter what happens, Frenchy will thrive, especially with his agitation system. Appropriately called The Agitator, it was custom-made for him by Delta Separations. “All the knowledge I have is in that machine,” he said. “I can scale up easily now that I have it. Now I can grow producing quality.”
“I just don’t want to rush,” he added. “There are no constraints. We don’t need an investor; we don’t need nothing. We’re good. We’ve put ourselves in the position where we’re small, but we are not dependent on anyone.”
The French agitator, like a fine wine, is more than comfortable with the situation, no matter where in the world he and Aficionado end up. “From the beginning, the power I have is because I work with Aficionado,” he insisted. “The quality of their genetics is what makes me. I’m the winemaker, the Michelin chef. I need that quality to be able to show off.”
The Qualities of Resin
Frenchy Cannoli has created a resin quality scoring sheet, available on FrenchyCannoli.com, that allows people to evaluate the quality of their resin using the following criteria: