Monday, May 6, 2013
Lillie Belle Farms of Oregon has introduced the Lillie Belle Stella Blue Milk Chocolate which is a dark milk chocolate base of 50% cocoa solids mixed with Rogue Creamery’s Powdered Blue Heaven Cheese. Lillie Belle has been making a Smokey Blue Cheese truffle for some years, so the idea of a solid bar should not be a shock to anyone.
The bar’s packaging and name is a full homage to the Grateful Dead. The ingredients include organic chocolate, organic sugar, organic cocoa butter, powdered buttermilk, powdered nonfat milk, blue cheese (made from raw milk, salt and penicillin bacteria).
The bar is beautifully molded. It has an ideal set of ratios, though the bar is not segmented (which I usually prefer) - it’s thick but not difficult to snap apart, but it also has a small footprint so the bar doesn’t take up much space in my bag.
The bar is less smoky smelling than I expected, it really just smells like a chocolate bar with a strong woodsy and less sweet/milky note. The melt is excellent, the texture is smooth with only the slightest grain to the cocoa solids. After the immediate chocolate notes, there is a hit of sharpness ... I can’t quite say that it’s salty so perhaps it’s umami.
There’s no cheesy component to it, it doesn’t have that sort of moldy smell or sort of metallic note that some blue cheese have. Overall, it’s just a less sweet, slightly savory and dark milk chocolate bar.
I enjoyed it, especially since it was both a milk chocolate bar and pretty dark. I don’t know if I would reach for this regularly but I do have to say that it mixes well with nuts but not with other sorts of candy that has more berry notes to it.
Since the ingredients list is so small and it’s all bean to bar, I feel pretty good about the ethical sourcing. The bar is made in a facility that also processes nuts, soy and of course it contains milk.
Friday, May 3, 2013
Trader Joe’s always selects their confectionery products with a bit of an atypical flair. Sure, they have some organic mints in tins at the check out counter, but they’re also offering these Trader Joe’s Organic Gingermints as well.
The tin is cute and bold, featuring orange and salmon accents and some wasabi-green highlights. The mints are Kosher and made with organic ingredients, gluten free and vegan. The steel, hinged box holds 50 “mints” though they’re really just ginger flavored ... no peppermint or spearmint flavors in there.
The ingredients are simple:
They’re rather creamy looking, just slightly off white which could be from the maple syrup or ground ginger root. They’re also very gingery. They’re smoother than Altoids, less of a chalky quality to them. When I let it dissolve, it was a little syrupy instead, kind of like a slippery elm lozenge. Mostly I crunch them, which means that I get a big kick of the ginger immediately. They’re sweet, but it’s more earthy and clean with a lingering heat from the ginger. They’re spicy, but the burn doesn’t accumulate, so I didn’t have trouble eating three or four in a row.
I suspect that these are just repackaged VerMints which are also made in Canada and have the same agar and gum tragacanth ingredients, but that’s fine with me these are certainly easier to find. Trader Joe’s also sells a straight Organic Peppermint tin as well.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
I saw these Haribo Hot Sticks first on the Candy Gurus site and knew I had to have them.
They’re a strange combination of flavors, at least to the American palate. The package describes them as Fruity-Spicy & Liquorice. They’re sugar crusted gummis in three flavor combinations: Hot Orange + Liquorice, Ginger-Lemon + Liquorice and Raspberry-Jalapeno + Liquorice.
Haribo is a global confectionery brand, but this package is for the German market, with the majority of the package information in German and a smattering in English.
There are three flavors, but I have trouble telling them apart. The raspberry was easy, since it was pink, but the orange and lemon versions were more difficult.
The texture is soft and bouncy, the sugar crust is fine and adheres well to the candy, so well that there was barely any in the bottom of the bag. Each has a licorice end, and that flavor was consistent across all the pieces. It was very sweet with a mild anise flavor. I’m not usually the keen on Haribo’s licorice, but this gummi version was mild and traditional.
Hot Orange + Liquorice - the orange end had a little tangy citrus note and at first, I had trouble detecting anything else, but soon the warming spice of what I can only guess is hot pepper started. It was really just the heat, there wasn’t much of the vegetable note to it. The licorice combined well with it, mostly evening it all out and providing a more lingering sweetness.
Ginger-Lemon + Liquorice - this was the flavor that drove me to find the Hot Sticks. I love Haribo’s Ginger Lemon gummis, so the addition of licorice sounded great. The earthy flavor of the ginger balanced very well with the herbal notes of the anise-licorice. The tartness of the lemon cut the sugary sweetness of the grainy coating.
Raspberry-Jalapeno + Liquorice - I have to admit that jalapeno is not one of my favorite flavors. The raspberry and jalapeno flavors were well balanced here. The tangy and floral berry notes came right out, but so did the green vegetable flavors of jalapeno along with the very warm notes of the pepper. When I just ate a bite from that flavored end, I found it slightly too hot for me. However, when eating as a whole candy, with the soothing woodsy note of the licorice, it’s interesting ... still, it was a bit chaotic. Of all the flavors here, this one was the least successful. But it could just be that I’d never tried that combination before and it was too jarring for me to appreciate.
Overall, it’s a really fascinating mix. Each bite is different, and because the flavors are separated on different ends, you can kind of control how much of a mix you get. I’ll probably stick with the much more mundane Lemon Ginger, but the addition of licorice, especially this particular version of a gummi licorice, is quite good.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Theo Chocolate is the first organic and certified ethically source chocolate company in the United States. I first tried them when they launched in 2006 and have been pleased with the diversity of confections. They make solid chocolate bars, smaller “candy bars” with inclusions and flavors as well as a line of bonbons and caramels. It’s a great fusion of classic chocolate making with new flavors and social responsibility.
One of their new bars is Theo Chocolate Salted Almond Dark Chocolate (with 70% Cacao). It’s a simple blend of dark chocolate beans and almonds with a touch of sea salt.
Note that the bar packaging has changed in the past few weeks, so the new ones won’t be bright pink, look for these. The bar is organic, vegan, soy and gluten free though it’s manufactured on shared equipment with products containing milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts & other nuts. The cacao and sugar is sourced through Fair for Life (which assures the social responsibility of the sourcing).
The bar is simple, just a series of long segments, there’s no splashy custom molded design here. From flipping the bar over, I can see that the almonds in pieces, not whole (which is fine with me).
The scent of the chocolate is deep and woodsy with notes of coffee. The snap is good and the molding is excellent without any bubbles or voids (which can be an issue with inclusions).
The flavor of the chocolate is strong, it’s a little acidic and has strong coffee notes along with some smoke. The sugars are forward (along with a little of the salt note) and the chocolate has a slightly dry and olive finish. The almond bits are well distributed, fresh and crunchy with a nicely roasted flavor.
Overall, an extremely satisfying bar. The cocoa profile was a little dryer than I like, not quite as buttery as I prefer my texture, but the nuts and just the right hint of salt make this exceptionally easy to eat for a 70% bar.
Friday, April 5, 2013
In February I went to Hawaii, to the island of Kauai. One of the reasons I chose it for a vacation spot was that Hawaii is the only place in the United States where cacao can be grown. (I’ve seen a few trees here and there in botanical gardens, but I wanted to see them outside, fruiting.)
Kauai does not have a long history of growing cocoa, and it’s not an easy tree to grow. But there are some small farms that have planted cacao in the past 10 years and those trees are now bearing enough pods to make truly Hawaiian chocolate. (In fact, you can grow all three major ingredients on the islands: cacao, sugar and vanilla.)
There are a couple of places on Kauai to see cacao being grown, I chose a tour called Garden Island Chocolate Farm Tour led by Koa Kahili. Koa also runs Nanea Chocolate. What interested me in the tour was not just the chocolate but that fact that the tour would lead us through a small farm where we’d get to see and taste the fruits that grow on Kauai. I was hoping to get to taste some of the exotic tropical fruits we hadn’t seen in the grocery store or at the farmers market since we arrived on the island.
The tour was at a small location, something I’d call a demonstration farm, not a full plantation with acres and acres of each tree. About three dozen people gathered early in the morning, full of sunscreen and bug repellant. We walked around the small farm and Koa would pluck fruits from the trees and share them with us. There was a wide variety, some fruiting and others just flowering or dormant. We tried a few different kinds of oranges, grapefruit and limes. There was a large avocado tree, with avocados larger than grapefruits.
The highlight for me, of course, was the cacao. There was a small grove of small cacao trees planted in rows, not more than two dozen of them and not more than seven years old. They were about six feet tall and had full grown pods. Unlike apple or orange trees, which bear their flowers and later their fruits at the ends of the branches, the cacao puts out flower right on the trunk or branches (kind of like a fig tree does). The flowers are small (see above) and are pollinated by tiny flies.
The pods are tested for ripeness by scraping the shell with the back of machete or knife and it’s not green. Since there were not that many trees and the largest one nearby did have some pods, we could see that someone had tested those within grasp several times (the scratches turn black later).
The key experience for me was the fresh cacao. One ripe pod was opened and passed around for each person in the group to take a bean and a little of the flesh. The rind is tough and stiff, kind of like a pumpkin, but more textured. Within that is a softer inner layer, then the pulpy center surrounding the 30-50 seeds. The beans are firm and fibery, about the size of a flattened pecan (in shell). The pulp is white and a cross between musk melon and mango. It’s tangy and watery with a stringy sort of syrupy texture. It has no relationship at all to the flavor of the roasted beans.
The seeds themselves are rather lilac in color, and taste, well, rather boring. A little acidic and lacking creamy oomph of the cocoa butter. Each pod, which weights about 400 grams, yields about 10% of its weight in dried, fermented beans. So one pod is about as much chocolate as is required for a nice, high quality chocolate bar. (If the bar contains 40 grams of cacao, which is then supplemented with another 15 grams of sugar to make a 72% cacao bar.)
After harvest, pods are cracked open, the pulp and beans are scooped out and left to ferment. The fermentation process can be done “naturally”, which basically means they’re just left in a pile with some banana leaves covering them while they naturally ferment. But in some climates they need a little help and are put in wood boxes to keep the heat more regulated to reach the required temperature. The same goes with drying, which happens after the fermentation process is complete and the beans have turned dark red. The pulp is shed naturally as is some of the shell as they dry and are raked around. After that, they’re ready to be roasted and made into chocolate products. (Okay, I’ve really simplified this.)
The next part of the tour was a tasting. Instead of just sitting and eating piece after piece of chocolate, this was a little different. There were fruits as well as chocolate. Some of the chocolate was in bean form, some in bar form, some in truffle form and then fresh pieces of local fruits to mix it up and give us a rest. There were at least twelve tastings, which for me is a lot at once, and gets me pretty wired. (So some I opted out of, especially if they had stuff like, oh, lard in them.)
We tasted garlic chocolate and dark chocolate and nut infused chocolate and some with ginger and other spices. We ate raw beans and toasted beans. We tried soursop and shared an avocado the size of a cantaloup. It was interesting.
One of the most accessible bars Koa makes for his Nanea line is the Nanea Coconut Milk 60%. It’s just cacao, sugar, coconut and vanilla. It’s still a rather high cacao content bar, even for a dairy milk bar, so it’s a very strongly chocolate bar.
I liked the simple packaging. The bar is wrapped in a heavy, paper-backed foil and then has a sleeve over it for the particular bar. Inside the sleeve is a great photo of cacao beans in a cacao pod. A lovely touch.
The bar molding is simple. It’s a two ounce bar with segments across its width. Easy to snap into pieces.
You’ll need to like the flavor of coconut to love this bar. The fun part is that it uses coconut milk, not coconut flakes. So all the flavor is there, but none of the texture. The chocolate is a little chalky and robust. The coconut is sharp, kind of like a cheddar cheese can be sharp. It’s woodsy and nutty with a sort of cutting note towards the end. The cocoa has a lot of the same woodsy characteristics along with a wholesome fudge brownie batter flavor.
If you know someone who likes coconut but is also dairy averse, this is a great option.
My prize from this tour though was this small batch bar, Nanea Kauai Chocolate - Wainiha & Kilauea made only with beans from Kauai from two different plantations. The bar was untempered, which explains its chalky appearance and slight bloom. However, the texture is really nothing like you’d expect looking at it.
So I’m just going to describe my impressions, even though they don’t make sense. The texture is smooth and creamy but light, like a mousse on the tongue. That doesn’t mean that it’s actually airy, it just feels that way. It’s a little waxy at first, it takes a moment for the heat of my mother to melt the cocoa butter (remember this is untempered, which means that the cocoa butter has formed into one of its other crystalline forms). There’s a slight grit to it, but overall it’s consistently smooth. The flavors have a lot going on. There’s some orange blossom notes along with peppery carnations. Then there’s the bitter background, which reminded me a bit of beer. There’s also a sort of yeasty quality to it, like egg bread. When I first tried it, it was like eating Challah flavored chocolate. There are some light hints of smoke or maybe lapsang souchong tea. But what’s missing throughout out this is a sense of chocolate. Lots of chocolates, especially bars from single estates have strong flavors in them, but there’s always a sense of chocolate. In this bar I never really got the blatant and expected chocolate flavors.
This bar was tempered, I bought it at a farm-to-table restaurant shop called Common Ground in Kilauea. (I also picked up some cocoa butter soap there, too, which my mother gave rave reviews.) Though it’s a petite bar (only 1.5 ounces) it was $13. Islands, they’re expensive.
The bar traveled well. I always appreciate a really thick foil wrapping. (I also kept it in the fridge once I got to my hotel, which sounds extreme, but the fridge didn’t actually work and only kept our fruit at 70 degrees, which is perfect for chocolate.)
The texture of this bar is exquisite, it’s smooth and has a quick melt with a burst of flavor. Some bars that have this quick melt have a thin flavor density. This is wonderfully nuanced. It’s floral, with jasmine notes along with the same eggy bread flavor that the Nanea Wailuia bar had. The woodsy flavors are green and grassy.
I loved the tour, though everyone who goes to something that like needs to be flexible about what will occur. Orchards, farms and plantations are places where stuff is grown, they’re on their own schedules. They have bugs and you’re outside and it may be hot or damp or smelly. A lot of the success depends on being open to whatever experience is presented. Koa was knowledgeable and affable, the grounds were easy to walk and there was a great variety of stuff to look at and taste. The rest of the group on the tour was also very good, including the children. The weather was cooperative. The price is a bit steep, at $55 each but it was also three hours and involved a lot of chocolate.
Friday, March 29, 2013
The world of candy bars has changed a lot in the past 100 years, since the first mass-produced combination bars appeared in stores. At first local candy companies made bars that were distributed regionally. Eventually, after World War II, candy bars became national brands. You could find a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Snickers bar or a Butterfinger at most candy stores though there were still plenty of local brands.
Today the candy landscape is dominated by just a few international brands, and the new upstarts that are found on the fringes fit into a different niche now. They’re special interest bars. These are the bars that incorporate local ingredients, fit into special manufacturing concerns like allergens, or in the case of the Eli’s Earth Bars from Sjaak’s Chocolates, they’re vegan (made without any animal-derived ingredients).
The new line of bars is interesting, because they’re not quite versions of already-popular candy bars. The Celebrate Bar is A delicious coconut caramel topped with whole almonds surrounded by chocolate. That doesn’t sound like any other candy bar on shelves today.
How did they make it vegan? Well, here’s the pretty short list of ingredients:
I’ve had two of these bars now. The first one I photographed and ate. Then I searched months and months to find them in stores again. Both bars looked the same, a long chewy plank of coconut caramel topped with whole almonds and then covered in a vegan milk chocolate. The milk chocolate is made without any dairy ingredients (but in a shared facility, so not appropriate for those with allergies) but uses real cocoa butter.
The chocolate itself is chalky and has a soft cereal note to it. The cocoa flavor is lacking, but overall it’s a pleasant coating. It’s kind of like how I feel about hot cocoa made with water instead of milk; I’ll drink it but I wouldn’t choose it. The chewy center is quite good, a very dense coconut and caramel combination. The caramelized sugar notes are missing, but the texture is great.
It’s an interesting bar and I had to throw my expectations about the milk chocolate out the window. This is not really a vegan milk chocolate, it’s just a very mild chocolate - the rice milk makes it something different in both intensity (which is what milk does to chocolate) and texture (which is kind of sad). I would probably prefer this bar with a true dark chocolate coating, but I understand the goal here was to make it with a milder chocolate. It still doesn’t match up to the expectations I have for milk chocolate, but if I toss those out and just experience this, I was surprised at how much I liked it. (It’s similar to how much I like Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, even though they don’t use a real chocolate coating.)
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Easter is the season for foil wrapped chocolate eggs. They can be solid, they can be filled with things. They can be the size of a peanut or a football. The fun part is when they’re actually made with good chocolate.
I was excited to see Ghirardelli Milk & Crisp Chocolate Eggs at Target. Ghirardelli makes very good chocolate for the price, right here in California. I’ve been searching for the ideal crisped rice and milk chocolate combination, so this was the perfect item for me to pick up.
The yellow bag contains about 15 gold foil wrapped eggs. They’re a rich milk chocolate with crisped rice. They also come in a blue foil version that’s solid milk chocolate.
The bag is on the expensive side. The 3.5 ounces is about the same price as a chocolate bar from Ghirardelli, $3.49 ... one dollar an ounce. It’s a bit steep for chocolate that’s not marked as ethically sourced or organic but it is all natural. (The facility also processes tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and eggs. Contains milk and soy.)
The eggs smell dark and smoky, less sweet than many milk chocolates but still with a dairy note to it. The melt is soft and has that same sort of smoky note to it with a strong malt flavor from the crisped rice. There’s a hint of bitterness to it, but not much. Overall, it’s far less sweet than something like a Nestle Crunch chocolate and thought thick, not quite as sticky as Cadbury.
Overall, it was a bit more grown up than a Nestle Crunch NestEgg, but should probably be reserved for adults since the price is so much steeper. I would buy these again, and of course I’d prefer a half pound bag so I could put them out in a dish.
Friday, February 22, 2013
Trader Joe’s rarely takes a breather in their new product introductions. If I don’t go in for a few weeks, I might miss its appearance on the New at Trader Joe’s shelves only to stumble on it in the regular rotation. This was the case with the new Trader Joe’s PB&J Milk Chocolate Bar . The bar is found at the check out stands, in my case, mixed in with the Speculoos Bars.
The bar is simply a milk chocolate bar with creamy peanut butter and tart raspberry jelly.
The bar is about 5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide. It’s a nicely sized portion, at 1.75 ounces though the calorie count is a bit high since it’s so fatty - 230 calories for the bar or if you’d like to compare it to others I’ve reviewed, it’s 160 calories per ounce.
There’s no statement about the origin or sourcing of the chocolate, but some of the ingredients are organic like the palm oil in the peanut butter filling and some of the sugar.
The bar looks very simple. There are six segments, each filled with a base of peanut butter and topped with a syrupy raspberry jelly.
The milk chocolate is quite dark and has a smoky flavor to it. It’s smooth and has an excellent silky melt and strong flavor of its own, however, the overriding scent of the bar is peanut butter. Once I bit into a segment, though, the raspberry flavors were far more evident. The whole thing really was like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The peanut butter is smooth, it has a dark roasted flavor with a hint of bitterness to it. There’s also a fair bit of salt, 60 mg for the whole bar, considering how much actual peanut butter is in there, I feel like it’s a lot but not over-salted.The jelly itself is a little runny. The best effect for the bar is to bite the segments, to get the smell of the berries, but that just makes the goo run. The raspberry is smooth, not at all grainy, it’s sweet but has a tartness to it. There are no seeds, but the flavor of the seeds, that woodsy green note is there.
For a buck, it’s a great bar. It’s different from anything else you can get in this price range and the ingredients are top of the line. The profile is less sweet than most other candy bars, which is refreshing.
There are no preservatives or artificial colors/flavors. It contains milk, soy and peanuts and may contain traces of wheat, eggs and/or tree nuts. It’s Kosher and made in Canada.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.