Tuesday, June 6, 2006
So I booked myself into this swell hotel and got all settled in and now their server has died and I have no internet connection.
Have no fear, I’m continuing to write all my lovely posts about every little thing going on, but there will be a slight delay in posting them.
I’m having a fantabulous time and people are wonderfully open and I’ve enjoyed talking to every one of them. My fears of being ignored as one of those “internet” people has completely and happily dissipated.
More later if I can find a computer with a USB port that will let me transfer over my other write ups! The show floor opened 2 minutes ago to the press, so I’m off!
Monday, June 5, 2006
Here I am, all settled into my hotel room and it’s not even 10AM. The trip was okay. It was raining in Pittsburgh and of course the middle of the night when I left the house (and my brother was quite the sport to get up and help me throw my bags in the car and make sure I didn’t forget anything) at 4AM.
The flight full and being the first one out for the morning at 6AM, it seems that the ticket counters still don’t understand that as passengers we’ve been trained to show up 90 minutes to 2 hours before a flight. They didn’t open the ticket counter until after 5. Which meant that I didn’t get any breakfast before getting on the plane. I’ve had three mint Mentos. I’m soooooo hungry.
At the airport my luggage was rather late in arriving ... which only made me realize that I should have grabbed breakfast while I was still in the terminal. The airport shuttle was a joke and I’m not doing that again if I can help it. I missed the first one because my luggage wasn’t there. Then there were eight other hotels on the list of stops. And guess where I fell on that list? LAST. So after a drive into Chicago with rush hour traffic it was a TWO HOURS before I was let off at my hotel. All to save about $8 off the taxi. Hmm, maybe I’ll buck up and buy myself an hour of my life back.
What was nice was how many other people I met and hearing about all the OTHER conferences and conventions going on this week (no one else was for All Candy Expo). It passed the time. And our driver was very nice as were the other folks on the shuttle, so I got a good sense of where I was at as people pointed out landmarks and places they’d eaten at.
I arrived at the hotel and hoped that there’d be a room for me to settle into at this early hour (check in is at 3PM, so the worst case scenario was that they’d hold my luggage until evening).
I’m staying at the Blake and the room is AWESOME. Huge, spacious and other big words that mean big. The decor is simple and elegant and there’s a nice large desk with a real desk chair and free WI-FI so that I can hook everyone up with every little thing for the week.
I’m headed off to the convention center now to get my registration and then back into town to see if I can catch a seminar on new chocolate trends.
I had to look up what a praline is, because I’ve seen so many different versions over the years. And it’s really not helped me to figure out what exactly is and isn’t a praline. In Europe a praline is usually a nut and sugar paste, often used as a filling.
But for the purposes of this post, in the American South the praline is a highly nutted fudge - composed of sugar and butter and sometimes cream that’s caramelized to a dry, crumbly, melt-in-your mouth consistency. Some pralines, such as those from Texas are a bit softer like a caramel.
These pralines, in plain and chocolate are from the Charleston Candy Kitchen (they also have a store in Savannah), a gift from my vacationing neighbors. They’re sizable plops filled with plump and sweet pecans. The candy mixture melts in the mouth with a slight cooling feeling. At first there’s a slight grain of the sugar and a moment later it’s all collapsed into a thick and sweet syrup on the tongue with a strong pecan/maple flavor.
The chocolate ones had the addition of cocoa to them, but it wasn’t quite as satisfying as a good chocolate fudge because it lacked that creamy component. They were tasty, but the plain ones were more satisfying in their pure expression of pecan-ness. I ate them all ... it was probably well over a half a pound and it took me about 30 hours, but I wolfed all four pieces down. I’m glad they didn’t come with a nutrition label.
Pralines are kind of like fudge. I don’t often buy them but if I do have them, it’s a regional thing. Kind of like salt water taffy ... it’s the kind of candy you bring home from a trip. Maybe next week I’ll blog about the chocolate covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii.
Does anyone else know of regional candies that folks bring back as gifts? What was the best one you got?
Sunday, June 4, 2006
Technically the All Candy Expo starts tomorrow. Not really the meat of it - not the show floor. But tomorrow I fly to Chicago and check into my hotel and get my press badge and even attend some seminars about candy marketing and trends.
I’m trying my best to be prepared. Over the weekend I was at a party and met up with a family friend in the candy marketing biz and she and I talked at length about anything and everything much to the amusement of my sister, soon-to-be sister-in-law and mother. It was good prep to know whether or not I can hold my own with this country’s great candy providers.
Then this evening, since I’m in Pittsburgh for the weekend, I went off to have tea with Jon Prince of Candy Favorites in McKeesport (the man who started my Saga of the Valomilk). He and I had a great time talking about candy and he gave me some insider tips on how not to be overwhelmed by it all and cautioned me that it’s not a good idea to eat several pounds of malted milk balls at once. (Yes, I know this intellectually, as I’m sure he does, but sometimes you get carried away.)
I have an insanely early flight (6AM) which gets me in insanely early (6:30 AM thanks to the rotation of of the planet). But hopefully this will give me a good jump on the day. I also hope to be able to post several times a day, I’ll report back on my connected-ness.
Friday, June 2, 2006
Starting Monday I’ll be blogging from Chicago. If it’s a product preview/review it’ll be on the front page of Candy Blog, otherwise it’ll be on my special Candy Expo Diary. I’m hoping to post lots of photos on Flickr as well.
Daily reviews will continue, as usual, below.
The All Candy Expo is a trade show for buyers and sellers of candy. Why is it such a big deal to me?
The show is primarily for candy manufacturers to show off their wares on the floor of the McCormick Place in Chicago. The attendees are primarily candy buyers for the major candy outlets in this country: grocers, convenience stores, vending machine suppliers, drug stores & discount stores but there are a fair number of attendees such as brokers, candy/gift store owners and other internet stores.
It’s the one place to see it all at one time. Hundreds of exhibitors (about 450 booths) who get to hook up with 20,000 potential buyers. The Expo goes from Monday, June 5th through Thursday, June 8th. The show floor is only open from Tuesday morning until Thursday at noon. It’s a lot to take in with only a limited amount of time.
There are also seminars to learn more about trends and business concerns for the industry. A limited number of press people attend the Expo each year but the internet press such as blogs are getting more respect and have been fully integrated into the press policy this year.
The All Candy Expo is run by the National Confectioners Association.
So why do I want to go, beyond the free candy? (Yes, apparently there’s a lot of free candy.) Well, it’s an opportunity to see the middle part of the process of the candy sales business in the United States. The candy is made, but no one’s stocking it yet. How does this happen? What determines what we see at our stores?
I’m going to try to find out.
All the upscale chocolate bar makers are doing single origin bars lately. I was pretty excited about the Dagoba bars, because they’re organic and they’re ethically traded (some is Fair Trade Certified). I’ve enjoyed Dagoba chocolate in the past and my only complaint really has been that they’re skimpy on the inclusions when they feature nuts or fruit.
I’ve not seen this array of tasting squares in stores, so I ordered it online.
The assortment contains four each of the Pacuare and Los Rios, and only two of the Milagros. The little tasting squares are 9 grams each and have the same design on them - a set of crossing lines and then a little V with some leaves, which I’m guessing signifies varietal.
Pacuare - Costa Rican Trinitario (68%) - lovely medium chocolate brown tones with a good snap and instant melt on the tongue. Strong smoky & toasted notes and tart bite. There are some interesting charcoal elements with a little bit of a pepper burn right before the finish. The acidity is only noticeable at the start and it finishes quite sweet.
Los Rios - Ecuador Arriba (68%) - dark and lustrous. Immediate coffee notes with a good buttery melt. Rather Sweet and not too acidic but a strongly dry finish. The oddest flavor note I found in this bar (consistently across several of the squares) was an olive note. I thought I was nuts at first but with four bars to try, I noticed it on two of them.
Milagros - Peruvian Amazonia (68%) - wonderfully buttery with some notes of cinnamon and raisin. A nice dry finish with a little tart, acidic bite. The smoothest of the bunch. (This variety is certified Fair Trade.)
Overall the buttery quality and smoothness of the chocolate shines on these. Not at all chalky, they are a bit on the sweet side. I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing these bumped up to 70% cacao and just reduce the sugar not the cocoa butter.
The texture and taste on these feels much more accessible than some of the Scharffen Berger, Chocovic or E. Guittard. I haven’t done a head to head mixing brands yet, but maybe someday.
The tasting squares option is expensive, but you can get the larger bar assortment if you’re not looking to share.
Note: Dagoba did recall some of their chocolate recently due to lead content and the Los Rios 68% part of the single origins line was part of the recall. It appears that the lead contamination happened somewhere in the supply chain (the cacao), not in the manufacturing. Los Rios is not available yet (as far as I’ve seen) but the other affected lines like Eclipse are just getting back on shelves now.
Thursday, June 1, 2006
When I came up with the idea to do this head to head comparison, it was because of the most obvious similarities between SweeTarts Shockers and Mentos Sours. They’re both rolls, they’re both sour and they’re both chewy pastilles. But they have completely different flavor mixes (the only flavor in common is green apple), different shapes and rather different takes on what a sour chew should be.
Mentos has always been known for intense chewy mints, so it seems only natural that they’d develop Mentos Sours. The package is a little odd because it says “The Chewy Mint” above the Mentos logo ... but these are not mint flavored. I guess “mint” has become a kind of candy, not a flavor.
Mentos Sours come in three flavors: Watermelon, Green Apple and Lemon. The colors are beautiful, and if they weren’t candy you’d want to string them into a chunky beaded bracelet. The finish on them is matte and not quite a continuous color. They don’t smell like much.
They’re soft and chewy, the shell is a tad bit waxy only lightly sweet. Upon biting into them the flavor erupts.
Green Apple: typical fresh sour flavor. Not too tart.
Watermelon: at first it’s sweet, like a cotton candy flavor with some floral overtones, then it kicks into sour gear. This is a really nice flavor, not too chemical tasting.
Lemon: immediately it has a good zesty essence to it and then the sour follows quickly behind to combine into the protype of lemony goodness.
Basically, they’re nice without being radically toxic feeling on the tongue. There’s a strange waxy thing that develops at the end of the chew though. I’m not sure if it’s the remnants of the “glazing agents” on the shell, but it’s an odd, undissolveable substance on my teeth that tastes only vaguely like the chew.
Mentos Sour are made in Brazil. (Note: the packaging I have may not be the way you see it in the stores - the website shows them in little reclosable boxes.)
Green Apple: intense and chemically flavored, it dissolves away into a sweet grit pretty quickly.
Orange: oh, this is the best! There’s an immediate blast of blisteringly sour tangerine on the tongue. Not as long lasting in the chew department as the Mentos.
Grape: it’s like a Purple Pixy Stix made chewy. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it. (TMI Alert - for some reason the grape ones make me burp.)
Cherry: the sour outside tastes like a very cherry candy, much like the SweeTarts, but with a stronger flavor instead of just more sour.
Blue Raspberry: an immediate sour hit is followed by some fragrant notes that remind me of cotton candy and violets.
All of the Shockers are intensely sour on the tongue from the moment you place them in your mouth but then mellow out to have a pleasant cooling sensation towards the end, but the chew doesn’t last long before they descend into sugary grit.
As all round chews, the Mentos Sours are middle of the road - they’re exceptionally pleasant and can be shared with adults who might ordinarily be afraid of something called “sour”. The SweeTarts Shockers, on the other hand, are a blast but you can’t keep eating them if you’d like to preserve the tasting functions of your tongue.
The packages hold slight different masses - SweeTarts Shockers clock in at 1.65 ounces (which the label says is three servings) and Mentos Sours are 1.32 ounces (which the label says is 14 servings ... one Mentos is a serving). Both contain hydrogenated oils, but not enough to warrant any fat content on the nutrition label.
Personally, I love the Shockers, if only for the intense orange ones. But the Mentos Sours have a much longer, consistent chew, especially the full flavor of the lemon ones, and I would probably pick them up in a pinch.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:30 am
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.