Wednesday, April 5, 2006
The problem with Valomilks is that they have a tendency to pop their tops or leak. So even when you get one as fresh as possible, close to the source, there’s still a chance that they’ve got a little oozing spot. It doesn’t really affect the flavor, just the messiness factor. It’s hard to keep from getting sticky if the cup is already leaking when you bite into it. When I got to my sister’s we each had a package. Of the six cups, three were already oozing, though they had healed themselves. (It’s like they’re filled with a tasty Fix-a-Flat caulk!)
On my long drive back to Pittsburgh from my sister’s in Mechanicsburg, I formulated a plan for getting as many of the Valomilks back to Los Angeles intact, as well as trying as many different ways to fly with them as an experiment. First, I had to figure out what the weakness of the Valomilk was so that I could best combat any disintegration during my continuing journey. My best guess was that flying caused the cups to rupture because of the change in air pressure. How this precisely works is beyond me.
As a structural material, chocolate is probably not the best choice. Sure, in large bars it’s pretty strong but the load bearing members on the side of the candy cup is hardly enough to hold back the considerable pressure of the super-tall cup. Further, the paper of the candy cup provides only the flimsiest of shear wall support, thought the fluting does give greater structural integrity than one might expect.
The weak point of the candy cup is where the sides of the chocolate join its chocolate top.
Any small fissure in the shell will result in the leaking of the vanilla center. It seems rather odd that the viscous filling would want to escape, and further that it would do it at the top of the candy cup and not at the bottom. I have several theories about this:
The first is that the chocolate top creates pressure on the vanilla filling pushing it out wherever it will go, obviously finding the weak spot at the top of the sides the easiest. In most cases the leak seals itself as the vanilla milk meets the air and solidifies (also gluing the paper cup to the candy). This likely releases some pressure and does not recur.
The second theory is that there is an electro-magnetic charge associated with the vanilla filling. This theory is best illustrated by looking at a cross section of the planet Earth. Though the Valomilk has no solid iron core rotating to create the magnetic poles as we know it, I have surmised that there is a static charge associated with the filling in the cups and that further currents that develop once the vacuum of the cup is achieved with the addition of the clingy chocolate topper. So there are these ebbing and flowing currents, flinging off electrons willy-nilly, creating this negative charge. Then you look at the chocolate cup, which is made of a micro-crystalline matrix of cocoa butter which gives chocolate its yielding solidity. The solid parts are positively charged, but the semi-solids may vary in charge. The hull integrity is apparently at odds with the electromagnetic charge of the plasmatic filling. The polarity of the hull and the variable charge of the static flowing center enhances the micro-fractures in the shell, time being a major factor here.
Or maybe banging them around cracks them.
Whatever the cause, the Valomilk is delicate and prone to leaking from a variety of causes. The Valomilk is known to do poorly when frozen and at high altitudes. This presented some challenges when it came to transporting this box of candies back to Los Angeles.
So I decided to sacrifice some of my flowing marshmallow babies in an effort to determine the best way to travel with Valomilks.
First, the experiment: Is freezing actually bad for Valomilks? Technically, no. It’s not the freezing that seems to do the damage, it’s the thawing. I put a reasonably pristine single cup in the freezer overnight at my brother’s and lo and behold, the next morning it was just fine. No leakage, no splitting of the cup. However, upon thawing (just putting it out at room temperature for several hours) it lost hull integrity and started seeping at one of the seams. The good news is that the taste and texture of the candy is unchanged.
I conducted this bit of candy cup cruelty because one of the ideas was to put the Valomilks in my suitcase that would be checked. Now, I’m not certain if the temperature in a USAirways jet hold gets below freezing, but on a cross-continental flight it’s certainly in there for a while. The other issue with checked luggage is I have no clue what they’re going to do with it. It could get dropped, smashed and of course the hold may not be pressurized as well as the passenger cabins. (I know they pressurize the cargo hold, but I’m not sure if it’s done to the same levels as the passenger compartments.)
The other plan for protecting the candy cups was enclosing them in an air-tight, container. I was already traveling with a plastic Tupperware-type container that held my candy for review (the on deck candies that I’d photographed). I could certainly put at least six of them in there, and plan to carry them in my computer bag that would be stowed in the overhead compartment. But I wanted more protection than simply a plastic box.
The first thing that came to mind was a thermos. But how was I going to find a thermos with a neck big enough to put a candy bar into it? A soup thermos seemed to be the best solution, so off to Target we went searching for a small thermos to hold as many Valomilks as possible. I found a very nice one with a stainless steel compartment and a double seal. It was also pretty compact which meant that only three Valomilk packages would be flying in these tony accommodations.
Now, I have to admit that I had some trepidation about trying to take my hermetically sealed goodies on a plane because of the security concerns. I’ve had to explain what’s in my luggage before, but I wasn’t sure how I would explain why I was carrying a dozen candy bars in my carry-on and further, why three of them were in a stainless steel cylinder.
Of course all of my worries and anxiety was for nothing. No one at the Pittsburgh Airport cared much about my thermos ... they just wanted me to take off my shoes.
Tomorrow’s episode: Arrival in Los Angeles
Lifesavers are known for being highly-flavored hard candies. If there were a candy model that Jelly Belly might have gone off of, it was probably Lifesavers - here is a hard candy, a little smaller than usual, but super-flavored and in a huge variety. Lifesavers got into the gummi game a while ago and I tried them when they first came out, but didn’t think much of them. I decided to revisit them, especially since they changed the flavors out on the five flavor tray.
The 5 Flavor variety bears little resemblance to the hard candy rolls that have been around since 1934. The flavors in this roll are Cherry (an original flavor), Watermelon, Green Apple, Blackberry and Strawberry. No orange, no lemon, no pineapple. Drat! The candies are much larger than the hard version, they’re soft, if a little greasy on the outside to prevent sticking and are positioned upright on a clear plastic tray inside the wrapper.
The Cherry is just as you’d expect it, great woodsy cherry flavor with a good tart bite. I’m not fond of cherry flavored stuff, but I actually find Lifesavers rather acceptable, probably because the flavor doesn’t seem as artificial as many others. The Green Apple, the lighter of the two green flavors, is rather mild, not too sour but good overall flavor. Watermelon is a darker green and bears little resemblance to real watermelon flavor but has a nice tart bite to it without that overwhelming fragrance that many watermelon candies have. Strawberry was a bit disappointing. It was sweet and had only the slightest hint of a berry flavor to it. I’d tell you about the Blackberry, but this roll had none. I think they’re dark purple. I’ll hazard that it’s the same blackberry flavor in the Wild Berries below.
The Wild Berry mix held more promising flavor for my tastes: Cherry Berry, Strawberry, Red Raspberry, Black Raspberry, Blackberry and White Grape.
The colors are a little bland, but I guess when you’re making a dozen different flavors you’re going to run out of primary and secondary colors. The White Grape was my favorite. Soft and delicate, it’s just a bit tart and has none of that artificial grape note that I only seem to like in Tootsie Pops and SweeTarts. The Cherry Berry was remarkably similar to the Cherry in the 5 Flavor, but I’m not complaining. The Blackberry is the only one that seemed opaque, a lustrous dark purple it was tart and fragrant but hardly had a flavor different from the other berries. The Strawberry was the same as above. The rather lavender looking one was, I think, Black Raspberry. It was sweet and tart like the others and much more perfumed, as raspberries tend to be. The lightest red one was probably Red Raspberry and was similar to the Black Raspberry one, but perhaps a little tarter.
The good thing about this mix is that the flavors all blend together well, you can eat them one after another without the flavors fighting or combine them if you’re so inclined.
I like to eat gummies when my throat is bothering me, and I’m just getting over a cold (so if my tasting is a little off, it’s some sort of leftover malaise). They’re soothing and not too sour, so I don’t have to worry about burning my tongue like I often do on my overdoses of SweeTarts. I bought these in a Christmas Storybook on an after-holiday clearance for 98 cents ... so I certainly got my money’s worth for five packages of these.
While these flavors all have merit, I’d really like to have my favorite Lifesavers flavors - Lemon, Orange, Tangerine, Banana, Pina Colada and Pineapple. Actually, I’d be game if they wanted to try a Butter Rum gummi, too!
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
I’ve searched high and low in Los Angeles and have not found them. There are a few places that sell them online, but you have to buy a case of 24 (except for Old Time Candy) and I kept rationalizing that I had plenty of candy to try. The thing about Valomilks is although they’re made with care and of fine ingredients in the freaking dead center of the country, they’re rarely found over the Rockies for the simple reason that they don’t travel well.
When I went to Pittsburgh in February, I was invited to visit Candy Favorites (also known as McKeesport Candy Co.) just southeast of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River. The fact that the largest internet candy store is based in McKeesport was incredibly fortuitous. I was already planning a visit to my sister’s, in Mechanicsburg, and McKeesport was pretty much on my way.
Well, the thing about Pittsburgh is that it’s wrapped in some sort of a time warping field. My husband jokes that the announcement on the airplane when you land is “The local time is 1958.” He’s not far off, really. For a big city it still has much of its old charm and architecture but has managed to reinvent itself economically since the loss of the steel industry. The geography itself has had its hand in shaping the community as well, by creating barriers of all sorts that segregate areas and isolate the whole Three Rivers area. There is less “urban sprawl” here just by virtue of the Allegheny Mountains hemming the city and surrounding communities in.
I’ve always found Pittsburgh and the area to be exceptionally confusing to navigate, which is due to the hills and gulleys, rivers and historic highways that thread among them. It doesn’t help that the area has never embraced signage. After being lost for nearly an hour and fifteen minutes (on a drive that should have taken 25 minutes), I nearly threw in the towel, but I realized I was just as likely to find my way to the candy company as I was to the turnpike so I persevered. I tossed the map aside and just tried to figure it out as best I could using the sun and the river as my guide.
An hour and a half late, I pulled up to downtown McKeesport. There I met Jon Prince, third generation in the candy biz (just as Russ Sifer of Valomilk is the third generation, see all this stuff it connected!). He showed me around his operation (another story ... maybe later this month) which is positively steeped in history (really, check out their website, the old candy ads are a hoot). At the end, in addition to urging me to take anything I liked from his huge warehouse, he presented me with a box of 24 Valomilks.
It’s the worst thing to happen to me in years. Here I was, traveling, without the benefit of my lovely candy photo studio, no one I was visiting had any interest in them (fools!) and worse, Valomilks were notoriously bad travelers. But there they were, in their gorgeous little box that also opened up to become a display for the buggers and I vowed to save every one of them.
Tomorrow’s episode: The Achilles Heel of the Valomilk
I’m not an energy drink person and I’m not one to start popping caffeine pills either. So what am I to do when I need a little pick-me-up?
A friend of ours who travels in Italy every year suggested Pocket Coffee! Basically it’s chocolate-covered Italian coffee. Because the sweet coffee center is concentrated, it only takes three chocolates to equal a single shot of espresso. Our friends like to get them for traveling as it’s more portable that hot coffee but has the same side effect. I’ve heard that it’s very popular with students, truck drivers and folks on night shifts.
Ferrero is a well-known Italian chocolate brand even here in the United States, with the elegant little Rochers and Nutella as their best-known products. In fact, I’ve never seen Pocket Coffee anywhere in the US before, but not for lack of trying. They’re not even made in the summer, so as a seasonal item it’s likely that getting one out of season means that it’s no longer fresh. But a no-so-fresh Pocket Coffee is just a different experience.
The candy is composed of a syrupy espresso center, then a light sugar crystal shell and then the chocolate. As the candies age the sugar shell will actually grow, taking sugar from the espresso syrup center to create a bigger shell. The ones I tried were a little old (purchased last fall) so they had the extra crystallized shell.
The coffee center is very sweet but smooth with a slightly acidic bite to it. The crystals provide a kind of funky crunch to it, but melt easily if you’re inclined that way. The chocolate is not too sweet and gives a good creamy boost to the whole mix. On the whole the candy is very sweet, a little too sweet for my tastes, but then again, it’s coffee candy. I’m not saying that I won’t eat it again ... though they are messy. If you’re driving, you’re obligated to pop the whole thing in your mouth but if you’re not, feel free to experiment with biting off a corner and sucking out the coffee first.
Finding them in the states may mean ordering online. They’re still being stocked at Capriflavors.com.
If only Cadbury Creme Eggs had a coffee version!
Monday, April 3, 2006
Join me this week as I chronicle my Valomilk Saga in five parts.
Daily candy reviews will continue as usual!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.