Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chocolate from the Winter 2014 Fancy Food Show

The Fancy Food Show can be overwhelming since there are more products than it's physically possible to try in three days. Attendees have to decide what they will focus on tasting. I'm always curious to see what's happening in the world of chocolate. Here are some of the most tasty and interesting things I discovered this time around. 

I’ve always been impressed by Vosges for their willingness to take a risk. Sometimes it pays off, other times it doesn’t. I didn’t try all of the new Super Dark bars, but I loved the Coconut Ash & Banana Super Dark Chocolate Bar. It’s made with ash from coconut shells burnt into charcoal. The flavors were deep and true, not artificial. It contains Sri Lankan coconut and charcoal coconut ash, Hawaiian banana and 72% cacao. 
The other coconut chocolate I liked was the Coco Besas Coconut Kisses bar from Taza. I generally like Taza's hot chocolate but usually find the texture of their bars too unrefined and rough, but in this case I really liked the texture. I was told that this  70% cacao organic bar was supposed to be a Valentine's Day special (note the hearts in the coconuts?) but was so popular it's now available year round.

There were some interesting Peruvian chocolates this year. One was from Orquidea. The company is working with farmers in the San Martin region and helping them to use cacao as a sustainable crop in place of coca. 

Another Peruvian chocolate I tried from Willie’s Cacao, the Peruvian Gold was made from criollo beans and had rich fruity notes of raisins and plums. It was my favorite bar from this British bean to bar producer that uses no soy lecithin. 
Ki Xocolatl a Mexican purveyor who had a bar with oregano! In the right hands there is almost no flavor that doesn't pair well with chocolate. I won't be rushing out to find this one, but I can't deny that the flavors were surprisingly harmonious. 

An interesting trend is mainstream chocolate brands introducing premium and small batch chocolate. One is Jcoco from Seattle Chocolates. They make chic looking bars in flavors like Black Fig Pistachio, Vanatua Coconut Pecan and Agave Quinoa Sesame. They do use soy lecithin, but I couldn't actually detect it. I definitely preferred their darker bars over the lighter ones 

An award winner from the Good Food Awards, Blue Bandana brand from Lake Champlain Chocolates. The 70% Madagascar bar which is organic and made in only 100 pound batches was outstanding. 

At Lake Champlain was another winner as far as I’m concerned, the Apple Cider Caramels, wrapped in. milk. chocolate. Made in Vermont with Citizen cider and Happy Valley Orchard apples. The long lasting apple tang was what made this confection so memorable. 

Two crunchy chocolate products really made a strong impression on me. One was Dufflet Nutt-e, a ridiculously good crunchy treat, thinner than bark (formerly known as chocolate crackle). It should really just be called “chocolate crack.” Wafer thin this magical product with nuts, caramel and chocolate comes in a variety of nut flavors (toasted almond and maple cashew were the ones I tried). This product makes me want to get on the next plane to Toronto to discover what else this fabulous confectioner can do. Also because I’m kind of freaking out that I can’t find this product online. 
Bark Thins were another very thin crispy chocolate treat with nuts. It also comes in a variety of flavors like dark chocolate and pumpkin seeds or dark chocolate almond. I like this trend toward "snacking chocolate" that's light and crispy, like a grown up Nestle Crunch bar. The products I tried were so good that I know I'd find them hard to stop eating! Danger ahead...
I usually avoid white chocolate, but trust Valrhona to make me change my mind. Their Dulcey bar “blond chocolate” is creamy and toasty, not too sweet thanks to a pinch of salt. It's a pretty caramel color too, not pure white. It really lends itself to confections, not surprisingly (thanks Chef Derek Poirier!)

Another fun twist on white chocolate came from Sulpice, who makes a  Cake Batter white chocolate bar! It’s nicely done, and also avoids becoming too sweet. It's so new, it’s not even on their website yet. 
Dessert teas are a big and growing category. A trend perhaps? Numi introduced Indulgent Teas at the show which are all chocolate teas and frankly don’t live up to the name “indulgent.” I’m a big fan of Numi’s Chocolate Puerh, but these teas seemed unbalanced to me, some were too bland others too spicy. They weren’t very indulgent and needed sugar and milk to make them palatable. I love the idea, and still drink the Chocolate Puerh, but I think the Indulgent Teas need more work. They are slated to launch in April.