Monday, August 13, 2007
It may come as a surprise to some candy eaters, but there really aren’t that many different chocolate sources in the United States. Did you know that there are only 16 chocolate factories (actual factories that make chocolate from bean to bar) in this country? Everyone else who makes products that contain chocolate get it from someone else. Usually a big someone ... someone in “Big Chocolate.” But every once in a while a little guy comes along and says they’re going to start with some beans and some sugar and and make some chocolate bars. Of course it’s hard to do that because chocolate making, in some ways, is about large scale. Large batches of chocolate mean lots of blending of beans goes on and then the product is consistent from batch to batch. An artisan maker can either attempt to create a cookie cutter product every time or embrace the individuality of the variety of the bean and the growing region.
Amano Chocolate‘s Art Pollard said just that. His chocolate-making techniques are more like a classic vintner than a candy maker. As a small company he chooses his beans personally and supervises the roasting and blending of the single origin sources to create hand crafted, small batch bars. Each bar is marked with a lot number and a molding date.
The ingredients are simple: cocoa beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter and Tahitian vanilla beans. Note that there’s no added soya lecithin here. (The only other bars that I’ve tried that have no lecithin in them are Theo and Michel Cluizel.) The packaging is equally simple but also appropriate. The bar is inside a nice matte paperboard black tab-top box and the bar is wrapped in a medium weight gold foil. (I’ve had plenty of bars that come in a microthin foil that is impossible to reseal around the bar because it’s torn to shreds.)
Madagascar Premium Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Madagascar - tart with strong licorice and citrus tones. The tanginess seems to give the chocolate a very crisp finish, it’s smooth, but not as full feeling on the tongue as the Ocumare. Eventually it settles into a flavor rather like golden raisins. (Lot no: 3/4/59 date: 1/14/2007)
Ocumare Grand Cru Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Buttery and rich with a strong woodsy component. A little peppery bite as well as a little rosemary note. The flavors are thick and resonant, with a deepness and complexity that was good for savoring but also extremely pleasant to mindlessly eat. (Lot no: 3/4/61 date: 3/8/2007)
I have a feeling that I just plain old like Ocumare. It’s my favorite single-origin bar from Chocovic.
I had several of these Amano Ocumare bars and found that they were much better, richer and more buttery after sitting for at least a month. So while “fresh from the factory” is good for some products, so is aging in the case of chocolate.
Brian from Candy Addict reviewed these bars and found them Awesomely Addictive. He notes a strong mint flavor in the Ocumare which was in a single molding of bars. Art Pollard dispatched a newer set of bars that did not have that hint of mint in them, hence the differing descriptions between our reviews (and more Ocumare for me!).
Amano’s been getting a lot of press lately, especially since their good showing at the Fancy Food Show in New York earlier this summer. Here’s a roundup of other reviews: The Art of Tasting Chocolate, David Lebovitz and Chuck Eats.
The final thing to note is the price. The bars run about $7.00 each and weigh 2 ounces - that’s over $55 a pound and isn’t a purty truffle or anything. In my middle-class existence that price makes these bars a “rare indulgence” but certainly for any chocophile is something that should be experienced. You can buy directly from Amano or possibly at Amazon (out of stock right now).
Friday, August 10, 2007
This Week in Candy keeps growing, doesn’t it? This week I have lots of fun little niblets to pass along.
First of all, NancyLand travels to the land of giant Marshmallows to give a peek into their cultivation. You have to see it to believe it. (I’m not sure how I feel about the cultivated version over the machine made.)
I saw this article earlier this week and I’m glad someone’s saying it. Kids should not be eating diet food. Childhood is a time for kids to acclimate themselves. There’s a natural process where they learn about what to eat, cravings and satisfaction. Giving kids low calorie, fat free and no calorie snacks just messes with that. Keep the sugar free stuff for people who really need it ... not perfectly healthy children.
I’ve mentioned a few times that Hershey’s is having some trouble (closing plants, higher prices for raw materials and fuel, poor financial performance), Brandweek had an interesting article that may explain part of consumers sudden disenchantment with the company: Consumers To Hershey: Candy Isn’t Health Food by Mike Beirne.
Basically, Hershey’s should go back to doing what they did best: inexpensive, quality candy for the masses and leave the high-end stuff to their Artisan Confectionery division.
Speaking of artisans and confections, how about original oil paintings of your favorite candy bars? Tom Brown has paintings of landscapes, too, but really, it’s all about the classics ... like Hostess Cupcakes, right? Sadly none of these choice treats are for sale in his eBay auctions right now. (Maybe I’ll have to go see his show.)
My brother came for a visit a while back and mentioned that he couldn’t find his favorite candy bar any longer: the Snickers Cruncher. So I emailed Mars to get the full scoop and this is what I found out:
So is it gone? Or just put on hiatus. If you want to make sure they know you love it, be sure to write to them so your comments can be shared with their marketing staff.
Consumer Reports came out with another one of their strange ratings list. This time it’s about Dark Chocolate. They taste-tested 14 commonly available dark chocolate bars: Chocolove, CocoaVia, Dagoba, Dove, Endangered Species, Ghirardelli, Green & Black’s, Hershey’s Cacao Reserve, Lindt, Newman’s Own and Valrhona.
The number one bar? Hershey’s Cacao Reserve Extra Dark with Cacao Nibs. (I thought it was a nice bar, but certainly not the best I’ve ever had.)
For all time best dark chocolate, I think I’d have to go with the Chocovic Ocumare at the moment (taking into account the price and taste).
In other less serious candy reviews, check out the candy everyone’s been talking about this summer: McPhee’s Lollipops in the shape of historical figures like Sigmund Freud and Abraham Lincoln.
Recap of this week’s candy reviews:
Monday: Milka Alpenmilch (6 out of 10)
Tuesday: Atomic Fireballs (7 out of 10)
Wednesday: Mentos Plus Citrus Mix (9 out of 10)
Thursday: Werther’s Original Caramel Coffee Hard Candies (7 out of 10)
Friday: Romanego Dragees, Cordials and Fondants from Italy (7 out of 10)
Average rating: 7.17 ... 12.5% chocolate content (if you count Milka as chocolate)
Sometimes I look at candy and I think, “How did they do that?” And while the why isn’t as important as the taste, sometimes I’m so curious about it I can’t fully enjoy it until I know.
Earlier this year I went to the Fancy Food Show and met the Romanego family briefly through one of their California distributors, Dawn at ArtisanSweets.com. The Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company has been making panned sweets and preserves in Genoa since 1780. While I don’t always buy into tradition and personality as it relates to products, because all that’s really important is what goes in my mouth, I’ve gotta say that I have been fascinated with Romanego’s offerings from both sides.
I had no idea (and still don’t fully understand the process) how they suspended the liquid inside a sugar shell and I didn’t get to try them at the Fancy Food Show. I was afraid to make a full order of the cordials, mostly because I wanted to try everything they make and party because they’re pretty expensive, so I ordered the Confetti Antica Dragee Mix which has panned nuts (pistachios, pine nuts & almonds), the cordials assortment, orange peel and cinnamon.
All of the cordials I’ve had up until this have been chocolate. These, as described above, are like Jordan Almonds, except instead of an almond in the center there’s a flavored liquid. I couldn’t quite tell the difference between them all, possibly rose, orange, cinnamon, clove and anise.
They’re just so beautiful. Smooth, pastel, sugar pebbles. The cordial center, as mentioned above, isn’t alcoholic, but is kind of thick without being overly syrupy. I found them pleasant, but I probably wouldn’t want a whole tin of them, just a few of them mixed in with the nuts is good enough for me.
You know how there’s that thing called “pistachio flavor” but it doesn’t really taste like pistachios. These taste like that. Not in fake “flavored” way, the pistatchio is soft and chewy and it has a bit of a grassy flavor, maybe a little bit like melon and a bit like flowers. The crisp little sugar shell wraps it all up.
The pine nuts were great, I just loved how peppery and smooth they tasted. I love popping pine nuts when I’m cooking (note: that doesn’t happen often) and having them in a candy is truly a rare joy.
The almonds were huge, seriously huge and flat. It was like these were pastel colored skipping stones or something. The almonds inside were sweet and buttery. The shell wasn’t too thick as to make you think that there wasn’t a nut inside.
The two other items look like bleached coral. The larger piece is a candied orange peel that is then panned in a white sugary coating. It’s all bumply and really does look like a little stalk of tumbled white coral. The orange peel isn’t very sweet or jelly-like as some can be. It’s pretty subtle, as you can see from the cross section, there’s a pretty thick coating on there. The other one were smaller pieces very irregular in size and rather delicate called Cannellette. Inside each piece was a little bit of cinnamon. Instead of tasting like “cinnamon flavor” like Atomic Fireballs, these had the authentic taste of woodsy cinnamon (which is sweet all on its own).
As a little bonus Dawn threw in a set of the Romanego Fondants, which I also wanted to try (but ended up getting a nougat instead because I gave myself a budget). I’m not sure how she knew that I wanted to try them, but thank goodness she did. (Note: I paid for everything else in the order and didn’t announce to her that I was ordering or anything, I think she just saw my order there and we’d emailed about the All Candy Expo next month a little while back ... I certainly didn’t expect any freebies.)
The pastel wrappers (each in a different color to represent the flavor as well as being printed in Italian in gold inks) are lovely to look at. Not too ostentatious, but still strikingly elegant. I feel like I need to brush up on my origami to play with them.
Fondant is a tough thing to explain and an even tougher thing to photograph. I chose the raspberry one because it was the only one that wasn’t pure white. They were like sugar cubes (well, two sugar cubes side by side in size), but the crystals were much smaller. They sparkle like snow.
Fondant like the dragees doesn’t have a lot of tricky ingredients, it’s pretty much all sugar. But it’s the careful heating and cooling that forms a soft matrix, kind of like a fatless fudge.
Lampone - at first I thought the raspberry was too light, but as I ate a second bite I realized it was just the lightest floral essence of the raspberry and it was really refreshing.
Overall, they’re expensive treats. Not something I’d eat every day, or probably even every month. I’ve heard of some folks using these as wedding favors, which would certainly be a lovely thing to find at your table and would lend a special elegance. Their unique offerings, such as the cordials, pistachios, pine nuts and cannellette set them apart from other Jordan Almond vendors. But they’re time consuming to make, so you get what you pay for.
Since sugar panning was invented as a way of preserving nuts and seeds as confectionery items, I have to admit that these keep very well in a pretty jar or tin, so you can enjoy them as a decorative item as you slowly make your way through a batch.
You can order Romanego products from ArtisanSweets.com or ItalianHarvest.com (I’ve not ordered from them, but enjoyed their website and large selection but their prices seemed a higher than Artisan Sweets). If you are in Genova, I highly recommend stopping at one of their shops:
Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano (opened in 1814)
Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano (opened in 1930s)
If you’ve been there, please tell me how it was!
UPDATE 8/14/2007: I got an email from Dawn at ArtisanSweets that clarified a few things.
The Cordials I got in the Dragee Mix are not the same as the Rosolio Drops that Italian Harvest sells. The cordials have a harder shell ... I’ve not seen them side by side, but I do recall the Rosolios being quite a bit smaller and more translucent when I saw them in January.
Second, Italian Harvest doesn’t carry the Dragee Mix I reviewed above (though they carry many of the elements individually), apparently that item is exclusive to Artisan Sweets. (And the price per ounce on everything at Artisan Sweets appears to be quite a bit lower - they also recently stopped using tins as mine was pictured and instead give you more candy in a bag.) It’s a really nice way to try a good sampling of their product line instead of committing to a whole package of one item.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
I was standing in the drug store last week staring at the candy aisle. There were lots of new things, one that caught my eye was the Werther’s Caramel Coffee hard candies, mostly because I got an email the week before extolling their virtues (thanks for the suggestion .
So I thought, I should pick some up. I didn’t want a lot of them, but luckily they had two sizes. A 3.5 ounce bag, which is a nice size for sampling, reviewing and sharing. And the second bag was 5.5 ounces ... a little more than I wanted to buy. The price? Both were $1.99. Neither were on sale. They were just the same price. So I bought the larger bag (what, am I stupid?).
The little hard candies are like the Werther’s Original, a creamy toffee or buttery hard candy.
They’re attractively packaged, each individually sealed in its own easy to open gold mylar pillow. No, they’re not in the twist wraps like the original Werther’s Original which I really need to cover, but you can check out this review of the classic by Jamie on Candy Addict.
These little disks are exceptionally pretty. They have a pleasant swirl of two different colors (though I can’t really tell the difference in taste between the pieces) that look like black coffee and coffee with cream.
The flavor is, well, very sweet and creamy. The coffee comes out as a little bit of a background hint to the stronger toffee/caramel. It’s missing a bit of the salty hit that I enjoy with Werther’s Original. As coffee hard candies go, these don’t rival the other set that I’ve had from Bali’s Best and United Coffee. But if you’re the type of person who likes their coffee sweet and perhaps enjoys Caramel Macchiatos (I’m sorry, I’ve never had one so I can’t really compare it), this might be a fun little pocket treat.
I enjoy crunching them, they have a wonderful way of cleaving in flakes and shattering. Of course then it kind of becomes a sticky mess in my teeth, but that gives me something to work on later. They’re exceptionally smooth, which makes for a good candy to be patient and dissolve in your mouth. No voids whatsoever, so it’s not going to cut up the roof of your mouth like some candies like butterscotch disks can.
Werther’s Original are a great summer candy. They give you that creamy boost like chocolate but they’re so freakishly durable - you can leave them in a hot car or let them get frozen and you can even dunk a package of these babies in the ocean and they’re gonna come out of the package exactly the same.
Notes from the package: may contain wheat products, definitely contains milk & soy. Each candy is about 20 calories (more than most hard candies because they’re made with cream & butter). Made in Germany. These also come in a sugar free version (that I’ve not tried, but perhaps someone else can weigh in on how they are).
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
There was a cool article out of the AP that got featured on Yahoo News and CNN yesterday about the FDA Petition from the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
Bridges did a great follow up on the story, which is refreshing when so many of these issues seem to drop off the face of the map.
It mentions that there were 1,500 responses to the FDA on the Citizens Petition ... way to go chocolate fans!
It mentions that this may have an adverse effect on the economy of cacao growers and middlemen in the tropics. There are 50,000,000 people around the globe that make their living from chocolate, of course this has huge economic ramifications, even if it ends up being a 5% fat swap in chocolate.
It makes mention (towards the end) of the positions that Mars, Nestle and Hershey put on the record back in 2000. (A story, I might add, that I covered here back in this post.)
Big Chocolate doesn’t want to comment any longer ... Hershey’s, Nestle, Mars, the CMA ... they didn’t have anything to say for the article.
You can read the FDA statement that they put out around the time when the public comment period ended.
Here’s the interview I did for NPR last month about it where I think I took an admirable stand against some of the GMA’s positions.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.