Fancy Food Show
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Each day on the floor is a cacophony of flavors, smells, colors and even sounds. There’s a sociability element to it and at certain times of the day some booths are jam packed while at other times it’s mystifying that they’re not. And as tempted as I am to grab people walking by to get them to try something that I’ve just discovered, I have to remember to focus on my own goal, which is to let you readers know what’s on the cusp of breaking out as a big new trend and what classic favorites are still out there to be experienced.
One item I tasted the first day and promptly forgot their name was Rubicon Bakery. So after searching for two days, I found them again and even got another sample for later review. They’re all-natural freeze-dried meringue kisses flavored with berries and dipped in Guittard’s dark chocolate. They’re called CocoaBerries and already have a great following with calorie-conscious folks. Low calories & oodles of antioxidants aside, I loved the Strawberry ones which aren’t at all sweet, but bursting with a fragrant & tangy crunch inside a dark chocolate shell.
On the second day my eyes glazed over part way through, just as I arrived in the California Pavilion (really just a corner where a lot of the California companies were concentrated). So I went back with an empty stomach and a renewed sense of adventure.
Coco-Luxe, which has amazingly beautiful packaging, has some new bars. I was smitten with the one called Monkeyin’ Around which is milk chocolate with banana chips & cocoa nibs. I got an array of all their cocoa nib bars (Happy Trails in Dark and Spumoni in White) for a more extensive try back at Candy Blog Studios.
After a few near misses, I finally found Brandini Toffee, which is made in Southern California and has won oodles of awards. The flavors are dark and woodsy, with strong butter and burnt sugar flavors. Then just a touch of chocolate to hold some crushed almond bits to the pieces. They package them in tins or boxes.
I also took a few minutes to check back in with companies that I’ve tried quite a few times. Plush Puffs was there, with the best kind of display, an interactive one. They had little set of burners for fresh-toasting your choice of marshmallows. (They’ve made them a bit smaller, which makes them one big bite or two small bites.) I had a vanilla bean one which smelled so wonderful as it toasted. I paired it with a fresh and wonderful Peerless Cappuccino (one of the other benefits of a mixed food show instead of a single focus one like All Candy Expo).
There were some other fun marshmallow goods at the show. I enjoyed a nice taste of Butter Baked Goods had a Matcha Tea Marshmallow. They were light and puffy, not too sweet with all the fragrant punch of green tea and none of the bitterness.
Though the combination of chocolate and coffee beans has been around for a while, I thought Javaz by How Do You Take Your Coffee brought a few new twists to the idea. They have both milk and dark chocolate covered coffee beans that are specially selected & roasted to be good tasting when eaten, using organic and fair trade beans. And then they’re also given a candy shell.
They also have a line of Java Rocks which are little coffee infused chocolate pieces that are covered in candy shells that look like little pebbles. I hope to get more info on them as they start appearing in markets.
I was so pleased though to get to spend at least a half an hour at an import company called Crossings French Food (website). They handle French confectionery products including some of my favorites such as Arnaud Soubeyran (Montelimar Nougat) and Chocolat Bonnat and never made fun of my pronunciations.
Everything is just so stunningly beautiful that I wanted hug it. (Okay, maybe I was high on sugar, caffeine & chocolate.) I don’t even know where to begin, but here are a few highlights:
Dragees Pecou is an old French company that takes their candy panning very seriously. The colors are bright and crisp, the palette fresh and appetizing and the ingredients sound fantastic. One of the appealing new developments is that they’re going to be selling them in small packages of about 4 ounces each (often you can only get them in bulk or repackaged by a third party).
I tried (pictured left to right):
Little meringue kisses dipped in milk, white and dark chocolate.
70% Dark Chocolate in heart shapes and pastel colors.
I also tried these crazy-divine Chocavenlines Hazelnut in Chocolate Candy Coated, White which were a hazelnut covered in chocolate and then a melt-in-your-mouth white coating.
To take home for review, I have some Paris Caramels made with goat’s milk. I tried some of the more traditional cow-based Fleur de Sel and they’re insanely buttery.
If you can’t tell, this one booth made the whole trip worth it. I want to repaint my house in these colors. I want to string these and wear them like pearls. I want to fill huge floor-to-ceiling glass cylinders with the dragees and just stare at them all day long. (And it all tasted good, too.)
Kraft had a nice booth that highlighted their chocolate brands: Cote D’Or, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Milka and Toblerone.
Toblerone debuted a Fruit & Nut bar in Europe last year and it’s finally arrived on our shores now. In addition, Terry’s Chocolate Orange was explained to me. They have their standard Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate version. Then they add in a seasonal flavor each winter. This year it was Peppermint, the year before a White Chocolate. And next year we’ll get a Toffee Crunch Terry’s Orange. (But there’s still a larger selection in Europe.)
I try not to approach company’s with too many preconceived notions, whether I’ve had a bad experience at their booths before (after all, these trade shows are primarily for them to make sales, not explain their products to me) or just haven’t liked their products. But hey, I’m known for being capricious and carrying a grudge as much as being descriptive and exhaustive. And that tactic paid off on when I went to the Sweets company booth. They make taffy and fruit jelly sticks.
But this year they have something a bit more elegant. Dark Chocolate Wine Gels in Port, Cabernet and Champagne. The short sticks are elegantly packaged in half round “tubes” with a little cellophane sealed tray. The taste is subtle and not at all fake or like it’s trying to hard (like, frankly, salt water taffy can be). I’m looking forward to finding them in stores soon.
I’m packing up my car for the drive back to Los Angeles, it’s absurd how many samples I have. Many are old favorites that I’ve picked up for personal consumption, but I’m also planning a bit of a giveaway while it’s still cool enough to ship.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Seattle Chocolates has revamped their line of bars, with spiffy moderne designs in bright colors. I want them to make socks, scarves & ties to go with them. (They did actually have some promotional buttons to go with them that I did pick up.)
Picked up some ample samples of Figamajigs with Mint which are just lovely in a white and pale green candy coated lentil style and their Figamajigs Raspberry bar. Love their simple combination of real figs and cocoa with dark chocolate.
Lake Champlain has a lovely line of new organic truffles. I only got to try the fig and honey. It’s a true ganache center, with more of the dark berry tones and touch of caramel sweetness of the honey.
They also featured the return of their fabulous novelty foil treats for Easter.
Chuao looked colorful and spicy as usual. I mentioned that the Firecracker, introduced last year at the All Candy Expo, was a bit too spicy for me and they were happy to report they’ve cut the spice. Sure enough, it’s much easier on my throat, but still has a warm burn to it (plus the fun of the pop rocks).
Seth Ellis Chocolatier has really bold packaging, but what stopped me in my tracks was the Candied Lemons, it’s actually dark chocolate covered candied whole lemon slices. Tangy, zesty, sweet and creamy.
This photo is of their ginger truffle, which I didn’t try, but I did have their lemon truffle and thought that was tasty as well.
L’Estasi Dolce had the best truffle of the day. They do a line of wine infused truffles, but it was the was Lemongrass and Ginger in dark chocolate that was the real winner for me.
New Tree is kind of a sleeper for me, I like that they combine cool flavors, I think their naming is a little kooky and the chocolate a little chalky sometimes… but then again the packaging is pretty. But I was transfixed by their new line Alpha, which has omega 3 fatty acids, courtesy of flax seeds. The Thym bar also has the flavor of thyme in it, it was so fresh and bright and the dark chocolate set it off so well, it was a wonderful fresh taste in a crowded room.
Gifford was a nice find, great traditional wax paper wrapped caramels. Also a great story of a company with a great heritage brought back from bankruptcy.
Ferrara Pan, known for Lemonheads & Atomic Fireballs, has expanded into chocolate panned goodies recently. I tried some of their nuts, but was taken with their Dark Chocolate Covered Biscotti. It’s a mild, semisweet chocolate and a hard, crunchy biscotti bite. Very munchable.
On the non-candy front:
Q Tonic was really refreshing, all tonic & citrus and virtually no sweetness.
Dry Soda has a really nice array of soda flavors, no high fructose corn sweetener and a really great not-quite sweet flavor.
Rogue Creamery makes great Blue Cheese. But I think everyone already knows that.
Coach Farms from New York had some lovely goat cheeses, especially their triple cream.
(All photos by Emanuel Treeson, (c) All Rights Reserved)
Monday, January 19, 2009
The 2009 Winter Fancy Food Show is back in San Francisco and huge. It takes up both halls of the Moscone Center and on Sunday, the opening day, I got through about one half of the floor.
Here are some random notes:
The star for me was their bar called Salty Dog Salty Dog (Dark Chocolate, Toffee Chips & Salt). The others are a Passion Fruit, Tangerine & Chocolate bar, Chile Limon Chocolate Bar and a Dark Chocolate and Milk Chocolate (40% cacao).
The actual molding of the bars is nice. It’s segmented and each is a little dome, so it’s easy to break apart for portioning. They come in cellophane sleeves and then inside a paperboard box. The design of the box is quite nice, a bit of a changeup from the usual design for McElrath, each is coded with a different pattern at the top of the box and then a picture of the bar on the front. It’s a nice effect when you see them all together on a shelf.
Other new bars that caught my attention were:
Scharffen Berger has a super dark milk chocolate bar. It’s 68% cacao. Add in some milk and some crushed cacao nibs and there’s not much room for sugar. It’s very mellow and not quite as malty as the Milk Nibby bar I’m so fond of.
I found two places out on the floor that were sampling KShocolat (website), a wonderful chocolate company I’ve tried before but can’t find a good source for in the United States. I’ve been looking for their dark chocolate and cardamom bar and have previewed it and can say, I love the combination. I’ll have more on that in a few weeks.
I stopped by Melville’s, which is always fun. I love their honey spoons (though they’re kind of expensive) so I love to get samples. They have so many new items. One is a new line of the spoons for drinks that are made with real cinnamon sticks instead of wooden sticks, so it will really give your cocoa or tea a flavor pop. Other items were beautiful new molded lollipops (the bees were so cute), a line of big fruit & vegetable pops (yes, a buttered popcorn pop like an ear of corn).
My favorite new item of the show though is probably the unique one. Impressions Fine Foods Hot Chocolate Mochi Krunch - spicy brown rice crackers covered in dark chocolate. It might not sound like much, but I can see being angry that these aren’t sold in bigger packages.
It’s a little disk, about the size of a quater of puffed brown rice. A little salty, it has a natural sweet and nutty flavor and then it’s covered in chocolate. There are plain milk & dark and of course the spicy one.
Other notable non-candy nibbles (because I try other things):
Fabrique Delices Artisnal Charcuterie had an awesome duck procsciutto that I really have to find for my next cheese plate.
Guittard has a few things for bakers & home chocolatiers. One that I thought really fills a need is the Guittard Extra Dark (63%) Chocolate Chips (no extra cocoa butter). Not at all chalky or bitter, but much less sweet than their semi-sweet, the “less cocoa butter” part will help them keep their shape ... and they’d probably make really good hot chocolate.
(All photos by Emanuel Treeson, (c) All Rights Reserved)
Monday, January 21, 2008
Here’s the second half of my notes on the Fancy Food Show in San Diego last week.
The cool thing about Malie Kai is that they do more than just plain chocolate, they have some combination bars as well ... and as you might expect they include Hawaiian items like Kona coffee and macadamia nuts as well as citrus and almonds. Lovely two ounce bars and wonderful hospitality at their booth. I’m looking forward to tasting the full bar I picked up.
Jeff Shepherd is always a delight when I visit at his booth displaying his goodies from Lillie Belle Farms. I got to try the Smokey Blue Truffle again ... it’s growing on me. I like the crunchy almonds and the smooth creaminess of the chocolate ganache. The bite of the Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese is pretty interesting, it creates a little buzz on the tongue. It feels more like food than candy, but that’s not a bad thing either.
The other fascinating item he had that was brand new was a wild chocolate bar ... that is, chocolate made from cocoa beans harvested in the wild, not from plantation-raised trees. I wish I had a photo of it, it’s not on the website yet. As you can imagine, there can’t be a lot of these since wild cacao is exceptionally rare and hard to harvest. Of course it’s also a very limited edition.
Haribo was also there with a their same booth. I don’t really have anything to report on their product line. I know they have their new Root Beer Gummis and as much as I’m a fan of root beer as a flavor, these just don’t do it for me (they might be too citrusy). I did have a few of their spectacular Pink Grapefruit Slices though. You can just enjoy these close ups of their lightbox display:
Jo’s Candies based here on the Los Angeles area will have some new Vanilla Caramels available at all their usual outlets. They were soft and tasty, perhaps a bit more milky than buttery than I’m used to, but super-traditional in plain wax paper and sold in clear bags.
I also enjoy Elegant Gourmet’s booth every year. They have stunning handmade lollipops and hard candies that look like painted ponies on a carousel.
I’ve never pictured their candies as an everyday sort of sweet, but for special occasions like baby showers, weddings and gifts, they’re something to consider.
Acapella Gourmet has an awesome new line of “coffeelatte” called Caffe Acapella ... basically, it’s cocoa butter mixed with coffee solids (coffee beans) instead of cocoa solids. So it’s not coffee flavored, it’s coffee! I have a few samples of those for a full review later.
Vosges made their first appearance at a trade show I’ve attended. They had everything in their repertoir out for tasting. I had a little sip of their white chocolate/vanilla/lavender/lemon myrtle drink (even though I’ve had it before) and had a few tastes of some other their items I haven’t tried. (No, they wouldn’t send me home with any samples for later.)
I tried a few of the caramels, being especially careful to stay away from anything with walnuts and was definitely pleased. It’s a stiff caramel, not too chewy but soft and with good buttery notes. I think the next thing of theirs I’m going to plunk down some money for is their Volcano Island Honey Truffle collection.
The Fancy Food Show always has a good showing of companies with honey and maple syrup. I picked up a few samples from Canadian company, mopure. They’re just little transparent maple leaves made from maple syrup. (I’m sure their maple syrup is awesome too, but I’m not much of a syrup user ... but if they offered me that bottle as a sample, I’d be all over it.)
Other items I picked up samples of:
For the most part I zoomed through the show this year. I usually take all three days and spend a lot of time with each company. This year I had my priority hit list and made it to most of them. A few I didn’t get to I know I can probably visit with at ExpoWest in March down in Anaheim (like Theo’s new Phinney bars). Of course my speed meant a lot fewer take home samples (usually I have conversations to discuss what I might be interested in taking home for a full review) but the money I saved on not having to get a hotel room in San Diego can now go to buying that candy instead.
(All above photos by Emanuel Treeson.)
Monday, January 14, 2008
Yesterday I had the great fortune of attending the Fancy Food Show in San Diego and then sleeping in my own bed.
As with my usual style when attending a trade show with a lot of food, I rarely eat any of it on the floor, I take it home for sampling later. But here are some brief thoughts of what I did see (and wasn’t able to bring home for a full review). I also brought along a photographer! (My husband was so kind to record some important football game and come with me instead of sitting around the house all day.)
K. L. Keller Imports was showing a lot of stuff that I’ve already had before, like lavender honey from Spain and Suprem’ Nougat by G. Savin from France. They also had some new nougats from South Africa from Walters that are a little lighter and fluffier and feature pecans and macadamia nuts instead of the traditional almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios. They also had some great chocolate covered candied nuts called Cude Catanies from Spain. Fantastic. Crunchy, sweet, chocolaty, nutty ... everything you would want from those ingredients.
I spent a few minutes at Coco-Luxe which makes truffles and the candied almonds covered in chocolate and cocoa shown here called Block Party Almonds. Like so many chocolatiers that show off at the Fancy Food Show, Coco-Luxe is based in San Francisco and was founded by Stephanie Marcon.
The bulk of their products are truffles, made in the tile-style. In the case of Marcon’s, they little transfer design on top is usually a good indication of what’s inside. Her flavors are usually based on popular desserts such as Banana Split, Devil’s Food, Gingerbread and Mocha. However, I asked for something that was not out on display that I’d read about, which was their Rose for Valentine’s Day. It has a touch of honey and is made with rose water (instead of rose flavoring). It was fresh and light and not the slightest bit like eating soap. Their other two flavors for the Valentine’s box are Champagne and a plain dark chocolate they call Pure Devotion. Awwwww.
I was happy to see another west coast confectioner there called Cary’s of Oregon. They make excellent toffee and are featured at CocoaBella in San Francisco. I wanted to try more of their items though, so they were on my list as a must-stop.
Most of all I wanted to try their Milk Chocolate with Chai Tea Toffee. It’s a nice fluffy crunch that doesn’t become a tacky lump in your teeth. The flavor is buttery and of course the milk chocolate goes really well with the spice of chai. (They have another with Mango Tea and dark chocolate, but that wasn’t really up my alley)
Sweetfields isn’t quite a candy company, but I thought I should at least put them in my notes. They make candied flowers. They had a beautiful display right on a corner at the show that did stop me dead my tracks. They had piles and piles of sparkly, preserved violas.
They’re stiff but look velvety soft in their “crystal glaze”. They don’t taste like much, a little bit of raspberry essence is thrown in, which is a nice floral flavor. The sugar melts away and of course there’s a teensy bit of the flower petals left. They had larger displays of pansies with their dark throats and primary-bright petals. They’d be wonderful on desserts like petit fours or of course wedding cakes. I could also see them as a lovely garnish for a dessert plate or on top of a truffle.
They also had some lovely little kits for true vanilla obsessionalists that have beans from all over the world so you can do your own taste test. See their site for more.
One of the people at the top of my list (but who wasn’t on the official list of exhibitors) was Larry Slotnick, who was showing off his new stone ground chocolate from his company, Taza Chocolate. Stone ground, you say?
Yes, big plates of stone grind together to create a slurry of ground cocoa beans to make the cocoa liquor that is the basis of this food of the gods. He has an array of three bars so far in his repertoir 60%, 70% and 80% plus the Chocolate Mexicano which is a traditional style Mexican puck. I tasted this and I can say, as you might think, it’s very rustic. It also has a wonderfully different flavor profile and texture. First, it tastes like bananas and caramel, the texture is grainy but still smooth in that it dissolves pretty easily on the tongue (I’m guessing more available cocoa butter to melt and distribute the flavors on the tongue). I’ll have more on this later when I get a hold of an actual full-sized sample.
I had a lovely time visiting with the women at the Belgium’s Best Chocolates booth. First, the packaging and sheer quantity of chocolate bars on display was stunning. Galler has a great package design that always reminds me of art supplies - like they’re boxes of paints or oil pastels. They also carry Dolfin which I’ve reviewed before in their lovely large bars in “tobacco pouches”. The new mini bars I picked up are White Pepper & Cardamom and Lavender & Dark Chocolate. (I also have a super-dark bar sitting around that I need to review as well.)
Poco Dolce knocked my socks off with their Burnt Caramel Bittersweet Tiles. Not quite toffee, there was no butter getting in the way of this intense burnt sugar flavor along with a nice complement of salt and smooth dark chocolate. But the real reason I stopped at their booth was because I saw that Kathy Wiley, the creator of these San Francisco confections, was also introducing a line of nougats. Drat! She didn’t have them with her. Oh well, I get to San Francisco quite often and of course they have a web store.
Whew! I’m only about a third of the way through my notes, so more tomorrow. (You can peek at all the photos here.)
I’ll have more later. Here’s a tease ... stone ground chocolate ... all-American chocolate grown on Oahu ... chai tea toffee ... honey and lemon licorice ... new nougats.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Here’s what others observed at the show:
SFGate noticed the salty side of things, and I’m not just talking about the sea salts.
C(h)ristine has a great photo array that captures things far better than words (well, not better, but it sure takes up less space) as well as her observations. Pay careful attention to those “collagen marshmallows.”
Bay Area Bites covered the keynote by Eric Schlosser of Fast Food Nation fame (I think Michael was sitting in front of me at the keynote). Take special note of the mackerel in a tube photo later in the post. See, being so focused on candy means I don’t have to give those things a second thought!
Elise has a fantastmic photo of Mashti Malone’s Lavender Ice Cream ... love their stuff! She also profiles quite a few other items I missed and links to even more coverage.
Dvorak was even there, with some video of the Whiffle machine - which makes these puffed tortilla shaped waffley things. I didn’t eat them and the machine scared me (seriously, it SHOT those things out with a bang all day every day).
Anna’s Cool Finds mentions things on the savory end but covers the Monkey Treats which were frozen fruit covered with chocolate - I had the banana and it was very tasty, something I’d buy in the summer. YummySF covered the tea scene (there was a LOT of tea) and finally, as I mentioned on Tuesday, there’s a lot of trading and giveaways at the very end of the expo, Jalepeno Girl, who worked the show as a “booth babe” has the goodies to prove it (and some fun rules for attending food shows).
I have a huge pile of chocolate and candies and I’ll have lots to write about for the next month or so. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I have to say that the vibe today on the floor was vastly different from yesterday. I picked up lots and lots to sample at home.
- Hammond’s Candy had their Mitchell Sweets on display. They’re a marshmallow covered in caramel. Tasty looking ... I’m looking forward to it! Their booth was awesome looking with racks and racks of their hand twisted candy canes and lollipops. They have both a regular line and a new natural line (no artificial colors or flavors).
- I stopped by les Anis de Flavigny booth and was enchanted by their new package design. (They candies themselves are a panned sweet, with a center of a simple anise seed coated with layer upon layer of matte white sugar - an ancient tradition in Europe.) They didn’t muck around with it too much, they’re still classic oval tins. I’ll take photos and talk about them more in the future. They also have a new line that’s certified organic in Europe.
- I tried Mademoiselle de Margaux, which I admired from afar the whole show. Their package is elegant and the confection itself looks like simple twigs of chocolate. I sampled the whole line in chocolate, orange, mint and coffee. I can’t say much else because it appears the flyers I picked up are in French.
- As trends go, and everyone’s been talking about them now that the show is over, the one that I noticed is folks talking about their product being “All Natural” for the most part indicating that they’re courting Whole Foods.
- Brown & Haley has a new limited edition Raspberry Mountain Bar. Sounds tasty. (I actually liked the Peanut Butter one best so far.)
- Melville’s Candies, which is known for their fantastic barley sugar candies in bright colors and fun shapes, was really pushing their Honey Spoons. They’re spoons shaped lollies with loads of real honey in there. You can eat them or stir your coffee with them. I picked up both Tupelo and Clover varieties.
- Guittard was showing some new chocolates, including a 90% cacao. It was definitely dark, but rather buttery with some interesting vanilla notes.
- I gave Haribo‘s gummi Root Beer Barrels a couple of tries this week. They’re certainly interesting and I do like Haribo quite a bit (their Happy Cola is very good) but I wasn’t thrilled with these. They were spicy tasting but too sour and tangy to ring true for me.
- I tried a really local line of fudge from John Kelly Chocolates. They describe their fudge as being more truffle than fudge. I enjoyed the orange flavored stuff quite a bit and soon I’ll try more of it. They’re based right in Hollywood!
- I have lots more tasting notes and of course oodles of samples, cards and press kits to go through, so I’ll keep tonight’s notes briefer (I just got home from the airport and the neighbors came over to make look at me while I tried to organize my samples on the dining room table). I did got back to both of the crabby booths today that ran me off before, just to give them another chance. One had a different person there and it was an entirely different experience. The second was a booth where I not only got a cold reception earlier this week but also didn’t have a good interaction in Chicago at the All Candy Expo. I’m not naming names, but I am saying that by giving everyone another chance, the whole show is battin’ 1,000 for a warm welcome.
- Finally, at the end of the show the booth folk were more interested in making their exit. The fascinating part is that they don’t want to take their own stuff home. Most of the open cases can’t be sold, so they were either extremely generous with the visitors to their booth or they would trade with other vendors. There were even signs on some booths that said “we will barter” ... I was rather suprised to see it on an upscale Belgian chocolate vendor and there was the staff loading fine chocolates into plastic bags. I wonder what they got in return. A wheel of cheese? A tub of fine olives? Maybe some honey ... I’m just glad it seems like everyone is going home happy.
I’m home. I’m happy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.