Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Theo Chocolate is a new company that makes fair trade, organic chocolate from bean to bar (and bonbon) right in Seattle. Think about it ... they start with the raw materials and create not only the chocolate but go on to craft the fine ganaches and couveture - all without the use of pesticides, hormones or chemical fertilizers and giving the cacao folks a fair price for their beans. There are very few chocolate makers out there that do that, anywhere in the world, let alone here in the states. The only one that even comes close in the bean to bonbon arena Michel Cluizel in France.
I got to try just about everything Theo Chocolates makes at the Fancy Food Show last month including their Confections Collection.
Earl Grey - a beautifully smooth ganache with a rich and dark blend of tea and bergamot flavors in equally rich chocolate.
Ivory Coast - the essential chocolate truffle, dark and smooth with a buttery feel that helps with the woodsy and bitter notes of the chocolate.
Peanut Butter & Jelly - yes, right next to the most upscale of all chocolate expressions is the PB&J except this peanut butter is a praline (kind of crystallized) with a raspberry fruit paste to die for.
Fig Fennel - this has to be the homerun hit of the entire box. Not just because it’s so wonderfully flavorful, but because I’ve never had this combination in quite this way before.
Mint - it’s like it was muddled just for me only moments ago ... the mint tastes that fresh.
Peanut Butter - like the PB&J, this one has a peanut butter praline that’s not sweet at all but has a wonderful woodsy, nutty crunch to it. A little dry.
Scotch - exceptional with its savory smoky notes like tobacco and leather mixed in with the butter and raisin notes of the chocolate.
Burnt Sugar - I’ve had several of these now, the effect is rather like a light creme brulee, with all the flavor of the crusty sugar top and all the creaminess of chocolate and heavy cream in the truffle.
Lemon - the white truffle of the pack, it’s really lemony without being sticky white-chocolate sweet. It has both the tangy notes and the zesty flavors.
Vanilla - very vanilla, with little flecks of it in the ultra-smooth ganache and an overall bourbon note.
(I shared this box with my husband and he ate the Ginger truffle.)
These might be my new favorite chocolates, if only they were easier to get a hold of. I’ve not been to the factory, so I don’t know if you can just go in there and buy singles (or a whole box of one flavor). No compromises ... that’s what it’s all about. It’s still a guilty pleasure, but fewer things to feel guilty about.
I also have a complete assortment of their bars that I’m working my way through, so stay tuned for the reviews of those.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I’ve been more pleased with Russell Stover over the years. It could be that my tastes have mellowed or it may be that Russell Stover is making better quality product, but they’re still not a go-to brand for me. What really surprised me is their move into organics. So I picked up their Organic Pecan Delights just before Valentine’s Day. They come in a peg bag that’s all green and matte looking with a little burst of rich gold for the “organic” banner. It’s also heralded as “gluten free” which I would love to hear if I were someone who was hunting in the candy aisle for something I could eat.
Pecan Delights are a pecan cluster with caramel covered in milk chocolate. All ingredients are organic, except maybe the sea salt and it’s unclear if the soy lecithin is.
These are upside down. The caramel is on the bottom, the nuts (in pieces, not halves) are on the top and the whole thing is covered in chocolate. Don’t worry, it’s not that big of a faux pax as candy constructions go.
They’re a little small but a nice barely two bite piece of candy. The nuts are fresh and the caramel is decent. It’s chewy and not too soft or sweet. The chocolate on the outside is a little odd, it’s not quite the European powdered milk taste, but close, with a slight gamey quality to it. (It reminds me of the Thompson’s Organic Milk Chocolate.)
Overall they’re not my favorite pecan caramel cluster I’ve had, but I did finish the bag (it was only 3 ounces total), which is a testament to their freshness. The ingredients label is much more comforting than some other Russell Stover goodies, so there is that consolation. I wish they came in dark chocolate, but for a first step into organics they’re no-compromise. They also have their rather good coconut bar available in their organic line (also only in milk chocolate). If price is the object and not the organic status, stick with See’s.
On a completely side note, Russell Stover is having a big clearance sale on their Valentine’s candies on their website. So if you’re ga-ga over their Coconut or Strawberry Hearts, this might be the time to stock up.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
I got this fabulous box of from CocoaVino as a Christmas gift. Cocovino is one of those companies that sells the story & the experience as much as the product. The pride themselves on their Eco-Forward ideals (organic ingredients, fair trade, wind powered kitchen and environmentally sensitive packaging).
The collection is simply called BonBons. The array features six different flavors arranged in pairs, each with a different chocolate and spirit/wine combination.
Bacchanal - Malbec and dark chocolate - dark and complex, it has a lot of the fruity raisin and plum flavors you’d expect from a wine grape.
Roman Holiday - espresso and Sambuca - a mild chocolate and coffee mix, nice and smooth without bitterness.
Tango Nostalgico - dulce de leche and Spanish Mintilla Moriles wine - interesting, but I don’t think the tang of the wine mixed well with the caramelized milk.
Raspberry Beret - raspberry, as you’d expect. Fragrant and fruity, a classic combo with chocolate. Not much of a tangy bite, but that’s no problem for me.
Baci al Limone - limoncello in white chocolate. I’m a big fan of limoncello (though I find it a bit too sweet and like to add some extra lemon zest to it) and of course the smoothness of a white chocolate is a great base, especially with the balance of the dark shell.
Queen of the Harvest - Sherry and dark chocolate - even darker than the other chocolates. I wasn’t able to get many of the sherry notes as they blend so well with the normal chocolate flavors. Tasty.
The other item on their site that intrigues me is their Fig Caramel. (Please chime in if you’ve tried them.)
As a Valentine’s gift, these are an excellent idea for a foodie or as a sensual gift to share with someone special. The BonBon box comes with each of the flavors in pairs, so it’s a natural idea that you could both have one and discuss the different textures and notes that you sense. They’re a bit on the expensive side (this box retails for $31) but then again everyone is getting paid a living wage and someone had to build those windmills.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Premium Organic : Smooth Organic Dark Chocolate with Cherry (70% cocoa). Yes, it’s dark. The bar is gorgeously glossy and smells of tart fruit, smoke and coffee. For such a dark bar, it is sweet. It has a nice melt, but a slight chalky feel on the tongue. The black cherry comes across with all the floral fragrance, but without much of the tartness that characterizes the dried fruits.
Though I’ve professed that I don’t like cherry flavor, I have no problem with actual cherries, so this was an agreeable bar.
This bar is organic and fair trade.
Dark Chocolate with Raspberries (70%). This bar has an equally smoky taste to it, dark and floral with some woodsy notes. It’s not as sweet as the cherry bar, but has the same sort of grain on the tongue towards the end of the melt. There are real bits of raspberries in there (including the seed) which give a little tangy zap every once in a while. The infusion of raspberry flavor wasn’t really there, but the scent lingered over the whole bar. This went really well with coffee or a savory snack like salted almonds or pretzels.
This bar is ethically traded.
I went to Target last night and noticed a nice selection of the Premium Organic line right at the check out stand candy rack. So this brand is getting much easier to find. Have you spotted it anyplace other than the Whole-Foods-style markets?
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
It seems kind of weird to want to find milk chocolate without milk in it, but I know that there are some folks that are dairy free and are looking for that creamy consistency of a milk chocolate without the milk in it. If you’re a vegan it’s not like you can’t have chocolate, after all, the cacao bean is just another seed. But in this day and age, you’d be amazed at how often dairy products are put into even what should be plain old dark chocolate.
Enter Terra Nostra which offers a non-dairy line made with Rice Milk which is also organic to boot!
Ricemilk Choco - 57% cacao solids. The plain Ricemilk Choco has a pleasant sweet smell with a light chocolate aroma. The look of the bar is also pretty becoming, light and glossy with a good snap. On the tongue it has a good buttery melt, but it’s extremely sweet. There’s also a nutty taste to it, and upon looking at the ingredients I understand why, there are ground hazelnuts in there! It’s kind of like a super-mild guandujia.
The thick sweetness wasn’t quite to my liking, but I had high hopes for the rest of the line.
Ricemilk Choco with Almonds - 57% cacao solids. The almonds make a huge difference in the flavor of this bar for me. The mellow nuts balance out the sweetness. There’s a more noticeable hit of salt in this bar too, even though I know it’s the same chocolate, the sweetness of the almonds gives it a great balance.
The almonds are just slivers and pieces, not full nuts, but I kind of prefer mine that way. They were rather light in color, not a toasty brown, so they added more texture than flavor.
Ricemilk Choco Dark Truffle Center - 56% cacao solids. This bar has a ricemilk chocolate outside and a dark truffle inside. The truffle center is rather solid, though slightly softer than the chocolate itself. The light bar here is sweet and the filling is a little less so, but still very buttery. Most truffles are made with the addition of dairy fats (cream or butter) to chocolate to create that hyperfatty tongue-feel. Instead this truffle uses unknown vegetable fats, which I don’t usually care for, since they have a different melting point than dairy fats and of course cocoa butter (yes, cocoa butter is a vegetable fat, but it’s a very special vegetable fat).
Of the three bars, my first favorite was the Almond one, second is the Truffle. I really didn’t like the plain one at all, it was just too sweet without any interesting texture or other notes to it.
Overall, I have to say that I’m impressed and pleased with this vegan line. I usually approach dietary substitutions with trepidation - I’m the type of person who would rather drink their coffee black than use non-dairy creamer. When it comes to choosing between a mock product or nothing at all, I usually go for nothing and wait until I get get a hold of the real thing. But Terra Nostra has done a good job here of bringing the creaminess to their already great organic dark chocolate that emulates the milk chocolate experience pretty well. I’m guess the fact that rice milk is already pretty sweet is what makes the plain bar a little over the top for me.
All the bars are certified organic an stamped with the Equi-Trade fair trade symbol.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Ah, the last chapter in the Green Halloween series! More lollies.
Yummy Earth introduced their new organic candies at All Candy Expo back in June and I was immediately entranced. They’re not just organic, they’re also vegan and gluten free, so even the most sensitive folks can have a treat.
The lollipops come in four different flavors which gives you some variety but the one that intrigued me most was the Pomegranate Pucker. They’re just getting into stores, so you may be seeing them at Whole Foods or other health food stores soon. I got some samples back in Chicago and promptly ate them, but I didn’t want to do a review from memory so I popped the Yummy folks a note and they sent me this super-cute “Personal Bin” that holds 5.6 ounces & 30 assorted pops (and some other new candies that I’ll share a review of in a few weeks).
Cheeky Lemon - very lemony, like someone threw a whole lemon in a blender and poured it over a stick. The whole lemon taste is here, from the juice to the rind. It’s more of a grown-up lemon flavor than a kids one. The zest part of it gets really intense though never technically bitter, it gives me a kind of buzzy feeling on the inside of my lips after a while.
Pomegranate Pucker - dark and mysterious. It doesn’t taste quite like pomegranate to me but has a complex berry flavor to it with some elements that reminded me of red wine. Smooth and tangy, it’s quite different from other candy flavors and of course isn’t as messy as eating a real pomegranate (oh, how many shirts have I ruined with pomegranate squirts).
Wet-Face Watermelon - sweet, tangy and with a nice floral melon scent that really tastes like watermelon without that bitter chemical aftertaste that I’ve been getting lately from artificially flavored candies. The color is like a watermelon sorbet.
Orange Squeeze - wonderful mix of zesty and tart, like eating a spoonful of concentrated orange juice.
Razzmatazz Berry (not pictured) - it’s like a fruit punch, kind of raspberry, nicely tart and flavorful.
If you’ve got kids and want to give them little treats or are looking for something for your Halloween basket, this might be the thing. My only recommendation for children is to pick out the Lemon ones, They’re great, I just think that kids aren’t going to like them as much as the other flavors. You still might be able to order online before Halloween!
Friday, October 6, 2006
Around this time last year I barely knew what Fair Trade was and there really weren’t that many chocolate products out there that were Fair Trade Certified. Now you can not only get cocoa and plain dark chocolate, but also some pretty cool flavored chocolate bars. Endangered Species seems to be leading the way with the Fair Trade “candy” bars in their new Premium Organic line.
Each bar is a single serving and easy to pick up at the checkout of your favorite “wholesome” market like Whole Foods, Wild Oats or Zoo gift shop.
Along with the Fair Trade and organic certifications, this bar boasts high cocoa content of 52% (high for a milk chocolate). This wrapper has a giraffe on the label and everyone knows that the pattern on giraffes is known as the peanut shell. (Okay, I made that part up.)
The chocolate is buttery smooth and very sweet on the tongue. It has very strong smoky qualities with a slight bitterness at the start but a good nutty flavor. Once I start eating the bar, the unpleasant burnt quality goes away, but each time I stop and start I have to go through the process all over again. I’m afraid I can’t give it the highest marks because of that. Now, I’m one of those “supertaster” people, so I tend to be more sensitive to bitter, so your mileage may vary.
Interesting fact about giraffes from the wrapper: A giraffe’s neck contains seven vertebrae, just like ours.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Here’s an all natural, organic candy that does a great job of looking and tasting like a traditional mass-manufactured lollipop. But these are different from the moment you pick up the package, because they’ve taken the packaging into account when creating the product.
College Farm Organic has been around for over 50 years (making traditional candies at first) and have only recently gone after the organic hard candy market. Their line of products include hard toffees, hard candies and these lollies.
They’re a nice size and shape. Not huge, but a good morsel. They’re oval shaped and rather flat. They’re smooth for the most part with some bubbles and voids, but nothing to cut up your mouth like a Tootsie Pop can. They aren’t clear, more opaque than most other hard candy lollipops, but the colors are appealing. They’re wrapped in a very noisy biodegradable corn starch cellophane.
They come in a mixed bag of 18 pops in four flavors.
Citrus Blast (orange) - smelled like lemonade, but tasted like very concentrated orange. Tangy, sweet, a little zesty.
Tropical Treat (yellow) - definite apricot and mango flavors with a bit of pineapple. Tart and sweet and tasty.
Cheery Cherry (red) - mild and tart and overall pleasant but with no particular flavor there. It did get more flavorful as I went along, but never really gave me a zing.
Wild Berry (dark red) - floral and sweet with a nice rounded berry flavor that wasn’t particularly raspberry or strawberry but a nice overall experience.
College Farm Organics Naturepops are made with no gluten, nuts, dairy, soy or eggs and with evaporated cane juice, so they’re suitable for folks with dietary restrictions and vegans.
The size is great and they taste just like hard candies - if you’re looking for something to give the kids that you won’t feel quite as guilty about, then pick some up. I saw them at Whole Foods over the weekend ($3.99 a bag), so they’re making their way into stores and you can buy them at Amazon (for about a dollar less per bag, but of course in quantities). As a Green Halloween candy, they fit into the fun factor. Lollies were not on my prime list of Halloween booty, but they were definitely something to be consumed (and not traded). The taste is the same as a traditional lolly and they don’t look any different, so the kids won’t think that you’re that stick in the mud that gives out “healthy” stuff.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.