Fancy Food Show
Friday, March 27, 2015
When I was at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January, I picked up a lot of little chocolate pieces, but not full sized bars for review. So here are a few thoughts on some items that are now in stores:
Perugina Baci are perfect little bites of dark chocolate and hazelnut. Of course they had to twist it up a bit and introduce a white chocolate version ... and now there’s Peugina Milk Chocolate Baci.
The wrappers are light blue instead of silver. They’re pretty and look the same in shape and structure as the standard dark. The milk chocolate does change the confection quite a bit. The hazelnut because more of the star, as well as the dairy notes from the milk chocolate coating and creamy filling. I still liked them, but I ate some classic dark at the same time. I still prefer the bittersweet coating because it brings out the roasted flavors. But these are still nice and probably something kids may enjoy more or supertasters who don’t like bitter things.
I enjoy BT McElrath’s Salty Dog bars (which it turns out I haven’t fully reviewed), which are a great sweet/savory mix of creamy chocolate, salt and crunchy toffee bits. So I was very excited to try the new BT McElrath Buttered Toast. It’s described as Toasted artisan breadcrumbs in our proprietary blend of 40% cacao milk chocolate.
It’s sweet and definitely buttery. There’s a soft bite to this and little bits that crunch like panko. There’s a light salt note along with a little toffee and malt to it as well. Even though it’s a very rich milk chocolate, it might be a little too thick and sticky for me ... maybe I’ll wait for the dark chocolate version to come along.
The BT McElrath Super Red is a 70% bar with little flecks of freeze dried fruit.
The tart notes of the berry bits with the rather dark chocolate combine for a lot more flavor intensity than something like a nut chocolate combo would give. The seeds also give a little bitterness, as does the chocolate and dark berry notes.
Vosges calls these Super Dark bars, though they’re only 72% dark chocolate. That’s because the super part isn’t modifying the chocolate, it’s modifying the inclusions, which are all deemed superfoods. It’s like they went out of their way to put bitter things in there. I picked up two samples (they look pretty much the same). Vosges Super Dark Matcha Green Tea features spirulina, matcha (pulverized green tea) and cocoa nibs. The grassy notes of the matcha are immediately forward. I enjoy a lot of green tea, though I don’t have matcha very often because it’s pulverized leaves, not just steeped tea. Though I understand that there’s more flavanol bang per gram in matcha than the brewed leaves, it’s just too intense for me. This bar brings out a lot of that experience, so if you’re a matcha fan, this is a fun bar, especially because there are some cocoa nibs in there for crunch. The bitterness was just too drying for me. I had to follow it with some Hojicha.
The Vosges Super Dark Coconut Ash & Banana features Sri Lankan coconut charcoal coconut ash and Hawaiian Banana. The bar does look much darker, blacker than a usual chocolate bar. It smells like coconut cream. The flavor is bizarre as well. There are the immediate chocolate notes, which are like crispy brownie edges, then the coconut flavors and something, well, umami that I can’t put my finger on. Then there’s the weird banana flavor, which is a little like fingernail polish remover, it’s not an integrated flavor, it’s like it escapes from the chocolate and evaporates immediately into the back of my sinuses - eventually within the chocolate I did come across a few tangy bits of dried banana, which were completely different on the banana taste spectrum. I wouldn’t call this a pleasant bar experience, though I do appreciate the attempt at the unique. The ash notes come out at the end, more as a sort of dry charcoal notes.
I actually love the little sizes of all the bars, and BT McElrath sells theirs in an array of sizes, some with mixed flavors so you can try more of choose to suit your mood. Vosges also sells some of their Super Dark pieces in boxes, but they’re about $80.
Friday, January 23, 2015
Last week I went to the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Most times I present tasting notes from each day of the show, but this year I’ve got a podcast that does it all!
Join me with Maria as we explore the new flavor trends and product introductions:
Here’s the full set of photos I’ve posted. You can also read my previous Fancy Food Show notes going back to 2007 here, kind of interesting to see how packaging has changed for some companies and how other heralded flavor trends did not catch on.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
The last day of the Fancy Food Show is a time for me to review my hit list and make sure I’ve covered everything I needed, then wander around waiting for serendipity.
Melville, which I know best for their beautifully molded lollipops had a new item, a giant gummi bear on a stick. And of course, once you’ve done that, you may as well dip it in chocolate.
John Kelly is a gourmet fudge line made right in Hollywood near my home. But it seems like I eat more of it when I’m at the Fancy Food Show than any other time of year. (It could be that their pieces are so huge and I always enjoy a little variation.) I tried their peanut butter and sea salt - not too sweet and not too rib-sticking thick.
Eclipse Chocolate is in San Diego and one company I’ve neglected for far too long. They use lots of great ingredients (many from California) and take a lot of care creating their product line. They have caramels, of course, since that’s the big trend the past few years. But I’m really interested in their Rocky Road, made with Plush Puffs ... I’ll have to pick some up and get a full review going soon.
It’s great to see the West Coast version of the Fancy Food Show highlighting East Coast favorites. A Jersey Shore favorite, Fralinger’s Salt Water taffy was exhibiting with a compact booth filled with every flavor of their dense and flavorful salt water taffy. They even had the paddle pops (I got a molasses one to bring home and review).
More photo coverage here and I’ll have lots of reviews and thoughts coming up over the next month or so.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
I’m afraid I find day two of the Winter Fancy Food Show the roughest. I’m usually still tired from day one. (In this case we got up at 5:30 on Sunday to drive from Santa Barbara to San Francisco, dumped my stuff at the hotel and then walked over to the Moscone Center and walked around for five hours to get a good perspective. Then dinner after at a nice place and a write up of that day.) Day two is usually about digging in with longer meetings with exhibitors and taking a chance on the unknown.
So today will be more about photos than tasting notes.
Al La Mere de Famille from Paris had some wonderful confections. They had callisons (marzipan leaves) and these lovely little apples dusted with sparkling sugar. I also tasted a dark chocolate bonbon with praline filling.
Sweet’s Candy of Utah has been around for over 100 years, making taffy and classic jelly candies. They have a new line of jelly slices, sour worms and bears that are all pectin based, so they’re great for vegans and made with no artificial colors or flavors. That purple-ish one in the photo ... pink grapefruit. They’re after my heart.
Hammond’s is best known for their classically pulled and twisted lollipops and candy canes. They’ve always made an assortment of chocolates, but now they’re going big with 10 new chocolate bars. Things like S’mores, a milk chocolate with popping raspberry candies, a PB&J and this dark chocolate with chipotle.
Stevia is getting big. There are a few chocolate bars that are now sweetened with Stevia. I picked up some samples from Coco Polo to see how Stevia and Erythritol do instead of cane sugar.
Truffle Pig, who makes decadent truffle bars has a new line of single origin bars called Wild Boar
More photos to browse here. I’ll have a few more notes tomorrow before I head back to Los Angeles to isolate myself with my samples and take some product shots.
Monday, January 16, 2012
After skipping the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco last year, I’m back again and it feels so much like home since this is my fifth year attending. Though the show is dedicated to gourmet products in all categories, they have over 250 confectionery exhibitors, making it one of the biggest candy shows in the country. (The biggest, naturally, is the Sweets & Snacks expo in Chicago in May.)
I’ll just be posting some tasting notes and observations over the next few days while I’m here.
I’ve tried plenty of New Tree‘s bars over the years. They use Belgian chocolate and create bars with both great taste and texture and usually some functional benefit. Their new chocolate spread is the first that doesn’t contain additional oils. Instead they just blend it with lots of milk and though the package was in French and wee tiny print, it looks like sugar as one of the first ingredients as well. It’s very smooth and not the slightest big grainy. There were three flavors, but I liked the orange dark chocolate best.
I love ginger candy and always swing by the Ginger People stand to see what’s new. In previous years it’s been about drinks and cookies, but they have a completely new candy this year: Ginger Gumdrops. Far spicier than something flavored with ginger, these are made with lots of the fresh stuff and are quite intense without being sweet.
I’ve had a few vegan caramels over the years and they kind of violate the essential definition of caramel in the first place, so it’s hard for me to appreciate them. JJ Raedemaker has created something that gets so close and is such a good product in its own right, I’m definitely going to find these again. His JJ’s Cocomels are made with coconut milk instead of butter and cream. They’re fully emulsified and smooth but with strong caramelized sugar notes. Right now they just come in classic and fleur de sel plus a dark chocolate covered version. Looks like a great option for both vegans and those sensitive to dairy.
Sanders Candy in Michigan has been around since 1875 and are known for their ice cream toppings. They’ve been expanding quite a bit so that now their comfort style of chocolates and candies are found in stores around the country. They had some new products and a new packaging design. Their new bars include combinations like milk chocolate and potato chips. I’m looking forward to trying them.
It’s funny to go to San Francisco to see a local brand. POP Candy makes nutty butter crunch toffees, when they’re based in Santa Monica. But with many small companies, it’s hard to find them in local stores. They sell at farmers markets and artisan shows right now. They have a great take on toffee barks with some sweet and savory flavor mixes and all of my favorite nuts.
My husband is doing all the photography, so if you want to see even more shots of what’s tasty or pretty, check out this photoset.
Friday, January 22, 2010
The final day of the Winter Fancy Food Show is always a little strange. The exhibitors are exhausted and are out of a lot of their samples and materials (if things have been going well) and many of the attendees are simply dazed, overfed and overwhelmed.
I’ve usually hit most of my list by then and just have a little bit of mop-up to do. It’s usually exhibitors that were too busy when I stopped by the first or second time or others that I heard about while I was there and added to my itinerary. I try to make sure that most of my business is wrapped by then so that when I do stop and talk I don’t feel rushed any longer. It’s probably one of the funner and more laid back days as the exhibitors feel free to be casual.
My original list had about 250 exhibitors on it, and I probably hit 90% of them the my satisfaction.
Chocoveda was one of those places I was a little leery of. I like my chocolate to be good quality, flavorful and attractive. All the other stuff is bonus material. So chocolate that’s infused with mantras seems, well, a little hokey. However, if I can just ignore the background chanting, I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as it tastes good. The good news is that their attention to detail is great. the chocolates are lovely and the flavor array was right up my alley. Their chocolate bonbons are all natural and vegan. They’re made with coconut oil and chocolate for the ganache center. I tried Ginger and Lemongrass which was fresh and vibrant and Honey Vanilla which was smooth and delicate. (Chocoveda website.)
Seth Ellis Chocolatier introduced Sun Cups which are sunflower seed butter mixed with sea salt, sugar and cocoa butter inside milk chocolate or dark chocolate cups. They’re made in a peanut free facility plus taste pretty awesome (well, I only tried a piece of the dark chocolate one so far). Organic, gluten-free, fair trade and nut free. (Photo here.)
Kookabura, an Australian licorice company, is also introducing some new Licorice Allsorts and cream filled assorted Licorice Straws including cola flavored. The Allsorts are notable because they don’t appear to have that coconut stuff in the fondant part.
Kenny’s Licorice has a nice brand of less-expensive Australian-style licorice (thick and soft chunks of wheat-based licorice) called Wiley Wallaby. I’d mentioned to them a few times it’d be cool if they made a candy coated version like the old Good & Fruity. Lo and behold they have! Outback Beans: they’re soft and short pieces of red licorice coated in a not-quite-crispy candy coating. (Photo here.) They’ll also be available in a black licorice version. They should be hitting store shelves in the next two months, your best bet to find them will be stores that already carry the Kenny’s or Wiley Wallaby brands.
I usually gravitate towards the goat cheese when I’m at the Fancy Food Show, but I’ll admit that I’m keen on most goaty things like goat’s milk chocolate. Last year I found some imported goat’s milk caramels with buckwheat. This year I found some from right here in California (well, the vanilla beans aren’t locally grown).
They’re called Happy Goat Caramels and currently come in the classic soft chew of vanilla. They’re actually not that different in taste and texture from most other plain artisan caramels but the whole goat thing will be a happy find for those who are less than lactose tolerant. (Happy Goat website.)
I spent some time in the California Pavilion (really just a corner where the Californian companies were placed) and finally got to try some of Elaine’s Toffee Company (ETC), it’s kind of famous because it appears in a commercial for some legal service ... though I don’t think the ad is that good at branding because I thought it was for American Express Business services when I finally found their table at the show. Anyway ... the commercial of course highlights the snazzy and classic packaging design. I tried a few pieces of the toffee and pronounce it excellent. The big squares (about 3"x4”) are sold at Nordstrom’s cafes and look like they’d be great with a cup of strong coffee while I mull over a shoe purchase.
On the other side of the planet is a man with some copper pots making classic Scottish Clotted Cream fudge ... in New Zealand.
Patrick Donovan’s Vanilla Cream Fudge is what it’s called for us Americans who might not know or appreciate the wonders of clotted cream. It also comes in a chocolate & hazelnut variety. I have some samples of the bars shown there and I’m looking forward to shooting them so I can eat them soon. (Gluten free, too.)
Poco Dolce, a toffee maker from San Francisco was showing off their new toffee bites, including this Double Shot variety which is extra coffee infused. I’ve had plenty of their stuff, I even bought a whole box of their Toffee Tiles before and ate them all without even taking their picture. One of these days I’ll get around to getting another box and doing a proper view. Suffice to say that the toffee is thin and has a good caramelized and bitter burnt note to it and always has the nicest dark chocolate coating. They have a great flavor array and the packaging is clean and simple.
I also picked up one of Ritter Sport new bars, the Neapolitan Waffle (well, it’s new to North America). I also found out why I couldn’t find the Peppermint in stores this past holiday. They will be back later this year, but last year there was a big issue with an import tariff on filled chocolates from Europe, so the Peppermint didn’t make it to the States for Christmas.
K.L. Keller Imports usually carries a nice array of fig and nougat things (including a fig nougat). This year one of her more exciting new finds were these:
El Caserio Caramel & Pine Nut Hard Toffee Pieces are rather large nuggets of dark caramelized sugar and butter with whole pine nuts in them. The flavor is buttery and not at all sweet but with a smooth texture. I tend to chew mine up, so the combination of the very oily pine nuts with their green and earthy flavor along with the smoky and molasses noted toffee was quite a mouthful.
I’ll be looking out for those in stores but at least I was able to pick up a handful of them for now.
That’s it for now. I’ll be back to regular reviews on Monday and the new “fancy foods” will be sprinkled in for the next few months as I see them hitting the store shelves.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I’ll have a full wrap up when I get home, but instead of writing this morning I’m hitting the road early as we expect bad weather and I wanted to be extra careful on the drive back from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
So I’ll just have to leave you with this dreamy cross section of a Xan Confections “Big Mouth” which is an organic crisp brown rice and marshmallow base with a layer of caramel and homemade peanut butter covered in milk chocolate.
I’m excited to get my samples back to the photo studio and of course start eating them!
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Monday was the big push at the Fancy Food Show, I was there for the full day and tried to see as much as possible. But I have a list of 250 companies and know I won’t see or taste it all.
Yes, I ate that. It’s a little chocolate version of a margarita. A bit of Patron, a bit of lime and a lot of creamy, creamy white chocolate in a dark chocolate cup with a salt rim. From Lillie Belle, part of a little line of cocktail inspired chocolates that also includes Maker’s Mark and my favorite a Gin & Tonic.
I stopped by a beautiful display at Kim’s Chocolates, a Belgian company. The booth was simply a double glass case of elegant and classic Belgian chocolates. I tasted an incredible orange and thyme truffle, smooth and savory with strong herbal and zest notes were just the right balance with the not-too-sweet chocolate. Also tried a cognac and cacao nib truffle that was quite dense and had some oak and deep molasses notes. They’ve taken over the shop on Larchmont in Los Angeles that used to be occupied by Leonidas, so I’ll be sure to stop by there so I can do a complete review.
Chuao Chocolatier: I mentioned the new Panko bar in my product announcement roundup, but there are three others also hitting the market: an Anise & Coffee and a Honeycomb. The fun thing about Chuao is that they also do sugar free bars, so everyone gets to have fun.
I found out how poorly I pronounce the international confection brands like Hachez and Pernigotti but enjoyed tasting all of the new items at the importer’s booth. Hachez is always so insanely smooth, the company conches their chocolate for seventy two hours which means that the particle size of the cacao is extremely small so it’s extra buttery. Penigotti does lovely gianduia, though I still prefer Caffarel, they have other tablet bars that are pretty compelling.
One of the trends mentioned in the Fancy Food Show press release was comfort foods. Chocolatiers like Gorant, which is from Youngstown, Ohio and a favorite of my mother’s seem positioned well for that. They do an excellent peanut butter meltaway and mint meltaway. They’re chocolate is quite sweet, but also buttery. They’re expanding national.
Rain Republic from Ecuador is an all-Ecuador chocolate. All ingredients are source from Ecuador: the sugar, the cacao and the vanilla beans. Plus it’s all made in Ecuador. I haven’t actually tasted it yet, but the packaging is lovely (the box actually opens with a tab on the top and can be easily reclosed) with its bold graphics and colors.
New Tree has evolved away from their initial line of Belgian chocolate in crazy names like Sexy. Now they’ve got interesting mixes of grains, nuts, seeds and flavors mixed in. They have some cute new single serve bars like Belgian Biscuit and Roasted Almonds that have stuff like omega 3 as well as less sugar without artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols.
I tried their Thyme infused bar last year and loved it ... now I just need to find a store that carries their bars.
Caffarel, the originator of gianduia, is usually at the show via one of their importers, this year they had their own booth. The stuff just takes my breath away ... if the folks who made Legoland ever wanted to do a gianduia theme park, please make it with Caffarel. I got a few samples of their leetle tiny hearts and some fruit gelees and will try to do a roundup after I play with them on my desk like matchbox cars for a few days.
Jelly Belly has Fruit Snacks. They’re not gummies, they’re just fruit chews made with starch and pectin as well as real fruit juice. No artificial colors. They were also showing off their mango and chili jelly beans, I haven’t tried them yet, because I’m a big baby.
B.T. McElrath introduced the Salty Dog bar last year. I’ve picked it up a couple of times at Whole Foods but I actually just keep eating it without reviewing it. This year the dark chocolate bar with sea salt and almond toffee chips got a companion, the Prairie Dog Bar, which is made with milk chocolate. I also tasted some of their new bonbons, which are always nicely packaged and designed. Pave Coconut isn’t too sweet and has a nice blend of the tropical notes and smooth creaminess. Lemon (pictured above) was also more on the tangy and zesty side and beautifully molded in a flower shape with a swirl of yellow white chocolate in the milk chocolate shell.
Hammond’s Candies sent me a tweet and bid me to come by to try their Honey Koko, one of their oldest products that they recently restarted production on. It was invented by the founder of the company eighty years ago. It’s just a coconut fondant covered in milk chocolate and more coconut. Much smoother and creamier than an Almond Joy but oh so sweet. They only sell them at the factory store and a few other candy shops in the area because they’re not a prepackaged item.
They also have some other fun flavors for their handmade and hand twisted creations like nutmeg candy canes, champagne candy canes, cabernet candy canes. It’s insane! Their booth always makes me so happy. I love the look of candy, it’s just amazing how versatile it is and Hammond’s really appreciates the impact that a one pound lollipop can make visually.
Hint Mint always has such fun packaging and flavor combinations, though I’m a kind of mint purist and stick with the original plain mint. I did pick up some samples of their Pomegranate Acai and Chocolate Mints.
In non candy tasting notes:
Yanni Grilling Cheese was awesome, you can get all the punch of gooey melted cheese without deep frying or bread.
I’m excited to try Purple Prairie Barley. It’s a heritage barley variety that’s supposed to have a nice toasted and smoky flavor. (I happen to love barley in all forms.)
I’ll have some more photos & roundups and of course will be trying to send out a few tweets during the day. Perhaps I can get back to full reviews later this week. (I’ve been tasting too many things to give one thing the focus it deserves.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.