Monday, January 4, 2016
Early last year at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, I tried a new line of chocolate cups from the confectioners at Vosges. These sets of mini peanut butter cups are from the Wild Ophelia line of chocolates and come in a few varieties. The first one I picked up at the store, when I finally found them last month at Whole Foods are the Wild Ophelia Caramelized Bananas Peanut Butter Cups.
The packages look like a regular twin set of chocolate cups (though they’re actually 2.1 ounces) but inside is actually a try that holds a set of six little cups.
I call them cups, but there’s actually no paper fluting on them, just the cups on a tray inside a wrapper.
The cups are made from 41% cacao milk chocolate, which is from fair trade certified beans (the sugar is also fair trade). The bananas are not the typical Cavendish most of us eat, but a varietal grown on Kauai known as Williams. The bananas are actually caramelized with some cream and sugar and sprinkled on top of the cups. The filling is peanut butter, and as far as I can tell, more chocolate.
They’re almost savory. The milk chocolate has a good dairy flavor without tasting like powdered milk. The melt is smooth and buttery with a little toffee note. Once I bit into the cups the peanut butter is pretty evident as a scent, but the texture of the peanut butter is barely there, it’s quite smooth and mixed in. The banana notes were hard to tease out sometimes, it wasn’t a lot of banana and often just a little fresh caramelized and honey note.
Some cups had more banana bits, and some of the banana bits were a little toothsticky.
I liked the cups better than the bar version that I tired a few years ago. Part of is that I like the format of cups, and the ability to have a teensy but full-featured portion. They’re expensive, but the package holds more than a Justin’s or Theo PB cup, though it’s still more per ounce. I liked the inventive combinations and I welcome more products that play with these formats.
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, October 25, 2013
There are often movie tie ins with candy, but they are most often just a packaging change. For the second of The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, Vosges Chocolate has released an interesting set of products themed with the movies characters and settings.
The Capitol Truffle Collection - $225.00
A ritual of degustation, this truffle collection is curated to guide your palate through opulence and ritual. The 18 different truffles in sets of two are an exploration of shape, texture, color and flavor. Rosemary with a touch of pink peppercorn is encased in pure, white chocolate. Coconut and banana are combined with dark chocolate and rolled in coconut charcoal ash. Candied walnuts and milk chocolate are thick and chunky, rolled in cocoa powder– to name a few…
Underneath the colorful truffles, 16 compartments await, each cradling a treasure to forward the degustation. Small vials of crushed violet petals, pearl dust, gold leaf and matcha tea are accompanied by detailed mixology instructions to create decadent libations. Trinkets and objects of desire dictate social rules and traditions.
The Capitol Truffle Collection includes: 36 truffles, accoutrements, and a menu of etiquette and recipes to serve an extravagant 18 course chocolate tasting
As a point of reference, a 32 piece truffle collection is $75.00. I don’t know what these other menus and recipes and accoutrements add to this, but it appears that it nearly triples the price. There is no smaller version of this either ... you just have to be willing to plop down the full $225 to get Catching Fire truffles.
The Hunger Games Katniss Chocolate Bar
Quiet your mind and engage each of your senses in preparation for this unique, cinematic chocolate experience. Breathe in the deep, smoky aroma of the bar before taking a bite. Let the rich milk chocolate melt on your palate, and savor the subtle, salty crunch of hickory smoked bacon accented by sweet, crisp apples.
Katniss chocolate bar parfum includes: apples pierced uncured hickory smoked bacon + alderwood smoked sea salt + 44% cacao milk chocolate.(Retail $7.50)
Contains: milk, soy, gluten free (not all the bars are). Manufactured in a facility that handles tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, milk, wheat and soy.
I have to say, these are not flavors I would have quite picked out to represent Katniss ... but she’s definitely an unconventional girl. So an unconventional bunch of flavors would suit her. I have to say that it seems a bit fussy for her though.
The Hunger Games President Snow Chocolate Bar
Breathe in the aromatic tartness of the orange and chocolate before taking your first bite. Allow the chocolate to melt in your mouth, while the release of the bittersweet citrus caramel punctuated by nips of blistering pepper permeates your palate.
President Snow chocolate bar parfum contains: Blood orange & tellicherry peppercorns caramel + 72% cacao dark chocolate
Again, I’m not an expert on The Hunger Games at all, but if I understand this bar, it’s supposed to emulate the damaged feeling of the President’s mouth since he poisoned his political opponents?
The Hunger Games Effie Chocolate Bar
Breathe in the fragrant aroma of sweet strawberries before taking your first bite. Allow the bittersweet chocolate to melt on your palate, and savor the bar’s fruity bouquet and the pleasing crunch of candied French violet flowers.
Effie chocolate bar parfum includes: dried strawberries + candied violet flowers + 62% cacao dark chocolate
This bar actually seemed quite suitable for the character. Some light touches of excess but an undercurrent of seriousness with the dark chocolate.
This is the most interesting of the bunch of the bars, I actually saw these at Walgreen’s priced at $3.99, though they’re $4.99 on the Vosges website. You can get the full “book” of bars shown above or buy the bars individually. Each is themed for a different district. The inclusions and flavor profiles are ... well, quite a stretch.
Wild Ophelia Bars - retail $3.99
You may now commence your rants or analyses of how this licensing seems more like District 1 partnering/exploiting the kids than anything faithful to Katniss and her friends.
Monday, August 13, 2012
The idea was to be able to reach more consumers with Markoff’s taste creations without sacrificing the artisan scale of the original Vosges but still reach more consumers. (Source) I have trouble believing that Vosges is truly artisan any longer since they’re a $30 million company. The Wild Ophelia website feature a hokey story about this mascot for the brand that dipped beef jerky in milk chocolate instead of the traditional lemonade stand as a kid. The story reads like a non-traditional innovator’s checklist:
But again, it’s all just made up. The real story of someone wanting to extend their brand isn’t good enough, yet with this pure fiction they want us to also come on board with the real stories of the artisans that provide some of the key ingredients in the bar flavors.
The Wild Ophelia line features bars that cost one third less than the Vosges bars, but of course are about one third smaller in size. That’s fine with me in principal at least, since I often find the 3 ounce bars a bit too much for me and my short attention span. The new line of bars feature flavors like Beef Jerky, Southern Hibiscus Peach, Salted Chowchilla Almond, New Orleans Chili, Sweet Cherry Pecan, Mount Sequoia Granola, Smokehouse BBQ Potato Chips and the final one, Peanut Butter & Banana is what I picked up.
The Milk Chocolate Bar Peanut Butter & Banana is made with a dark milk chocolate of 41% cacao. Then it’s mixed with pieces of dried Williams Banana, which is grown on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Peanut butter is mixed into the chocolate.
It sounds great, though I wish I knew as much about the chocolate and the origin of the peanuts as I now do about the bananas.
The bar is soft and has a smooth break. It looks like the pieces are quite small and well mixed in. It has a strong scent of roasted peanuts and a little note of maple or sweet hot cocoa.
Though the bar has a peanutty aroma, the chocolate, it tastes of both chocolate and peanut butter, like someone melted and mixed together a peanut butter cup. It’s a little grittier and fudgier than a standard milk chocolate bar. The heartiness is then highlighted with bits of dried bananas. They’re soft and chewy, but still kind of tough. They’re sweet and have a strong banana flavor with a fair bit of tanginess.
I found the leathery and sticky banana bits a little off-putting, they’d get stuck in my teeth. But the overall ratios and the fact that it’s not a sweet bar but still has that satisfaction of a sweet snack is really quite good. There are little bits of salt in it as well, and though it tastes like a lot because they’re little granules, it’s actually only 30mg for a serving.
Now for the transparency part. The company says “Wild Ophelia is a uniquely American chocolate brand that features all-natural and often organic ingredients sourced from small farms and artisans to tell an American story. All Wild Ophelia products are made with 100% renewable energy and packaged in 100% recycled board. Proudly, the Wild Ophelia line is developed by a certified women’s business enterprise.” Nowhere could I find a statement about the sourcing of the chocolate (none was listed as organic, the only organic ingredient in this bar was the peanut butter). So I can’t say anything about the ethics of the sourcing of the cacao and at $5 for a 2 ounce bar of chocolate, I’d prefer that the dairy products in it also be organic.
Wild Ophelia is gluten free, but their facility uses dairy, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. I love many of Vosges products, but have had to stop eating them because of walnut contamination issues (which is fully disclosed on the packages). I did not have any problems with this bar and none of the Wild Opheila products have walnuts in them (my only allergy).
For a more complete rundown of the line of bars, check out Jess at Foodette Reviews.
Monday, January 4, 2010
I like wasabi and ginger, and of course cashews and dark chocolate. So Vosges Bombalinas Black Pearl Cashews, which are 62% dark chocolate covered cashews with ginger, wasabi & sesame seeds should be an amazing mix.
I bought this small box of chocolate covered cashews when I was in Las Vegas in November and I’d completely forgotten that I’ve had the Black Pearl bar from Vosges oh, so many years ago. It could be the reason I forgot was that it wasn’t that memorable. (It’s also entirely possible I’ve eaten too much between then and now ... entirely possible.) Something about Vegas made me spend $9 for less than three ounces of nuts, must be the fact that my honor bar in my hotel room made that seem reasonable.
Bonus featured here include the fact these are gluten free and considered vegan (the confectioners glaze is made from gum arabic and corn syrup, not shellac).
They are lovely. They are big, luscious cashews. They are expertly panned. So I had no quarrel with that.
The crunch of the nuts was great and the chocolate was dark and rich. But the other notes, the woodsy ginger, the sizzling wasabi and the toasty sesame were all missing. There was a grassy note to the chocolate and some smoky and woodsy qualities, but I really wanted my sizzle and burn. Good dark chocolate covered cashews aren’t hard to find, and since these pack no special punch, I’d say go for the cheaper plain versions.
Did I eat them all? Eventually. Were they worth nine dollars? No. Would I buy them again? Probably not.
Monday, October 26, 2009
On my recent trip to Las Vegas I spent zero time in the casinos (except to traverse them to get to the chocolate and of course scanning the slot machines to find a candy-themed one) and all my time either walking or browsing fine chocolate.
Las Vegas actually has some very nice options for chocolate lovers and thankfully they’re liberally scattered around if you’re not into skipping from one casino-hotel-monstrosity to another. I went up to the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace to the Vosges Haut-Chocolat Boutique. Since it was barely a week to Halloween, I picked up a selection of their Skulls. (They’re a variation on their Easter Bunnies, which I attempted to review once before.)
There are three variations of the large skull shaped solid chocolates called Day of the Dead Skulls: Red Fire, Barcelona and Blanca. Each is 2.75 inches high, 1.75 inches wide at the widest and about 1 inch thick.
The Barcelona Skull is made of hickory smoked almonds, Maldon sea salt + deep milk chocolate 45% cacao.
The eyes are also filled with coarse Black Hawaiian sea salt to give them a bit more impact. They each weigh 2.2 ounces, so it’s more chocolate than a regular single serve bar, but it’s a hefty lump. They’re not really that easy to share, as biting into it is messy and difficult and once it’s cut up with a knife the allure of the skull shape is ruined.
Barcelona is available as a regular bar from Vosges, so I thought it would be fun to try in the novelty shape anyway. The color is quite deep and rich looking and I could actually make out the little almond bits near the surface.
As a milk chocolate it’s an easier bite than most dark chocolates. The deep milk chocolate is creamy with strong woodsy notes that are amplified by the mineral notes of the sea salt and the buttery crunch of the Marcona almonds.
I enjoyed the deep bites of the chocolate (yes, I just gnawed my way through the whole skull) more than I think I would a flat bar.
The Red Fire Skull is deep and shiny. It smells fruity and also very peppery. Like a bottle of Tabasco sauce, a hardwood smokebox and some other spice notes like cinnamon.
I was a little worried about the spice level. I’m good with horseradish, wasabi and curries, but capsaicin (the active ingredient in chili peppers) is unpleasant for me pretty often. Thankfully I think the chocolate is exceptionally well balanced. It’s hot (at least to me) but not uncomfortably so.
The woodsy notes have a definite tangy bent to them, like smoked peppers that have been re-hydrated there’s a bit of a spicy raisin feel. The cinnamon notes are also quite apparent. The bite of the chocolate is quite firm, there’s a distinct snap, but it is hard to just bite right into this thick skull.
The chocolate flavors aren’t overwhelmed by all of this, which is refreshing compared to some flavored bars. I felt that it was a good blend of flavors and intensity. The spices themselves lent a little grain to the chocolate which reminded me of the traditional stone ground Mexican hot chocolate I’ve had. I found the salt reservoir of the eye sockets to be far to intense and I felt really creepy digging out the salt from the second one.
This Skull was different from the Vosges bar, the Blanca is just high quality white chocolate, featuring 36% cocoa butter. (Catch me on a good day and I’m also about one third cocoa butter.)
The scent is rather odd, a little milky but not as sugary sweet smelling as some others and lacking a vanilla pop that I’ve had from Green & Blacks White.
The texture is a bit softer than the dark chocolate. It’s not quite as silky smooth, but still quite fatty with a good melt. The milky and dairy flavors are rich and thick and a bit on the sticky side. The vanilla has a good presence but not so much that it takes the center stage here. The Black Hawaiian sea salt, in this instance, is a wonderful counterpoint to the sweetness.
Still, it’s hard to just eat straight white chocolate. I found it was a nice way to offset the lingering throat burn of the Red Fire chilies.
They are rather expensive. The set of three is $21 and individuals are sold for $8 each. At 2.2 ounces they’re more expensive than the bars ... which are also on the pricey side (3 ounces for $7.50). If you’re looking for a more upscale and dependably tasty hostess gift for The Day of the Dead, well this will do the trick nicely. Part of me wanted more packaging (the Easter bunnies get little boxes) but then again this is spare and does the job.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Vosges graciously sent me a full set of their adorable and tasty chocolate rabbits. Unfortunately, my UPS driver must like to drive my packages around in the hot sun all day before delivering them. The included dry ice was completely gone ... and the precious little rabbits were melted & runny.
But I’m ever the optimist and improvisationalist ... so I did another Peeps Mash Up with the pre-heated fondue!
Suffice to say, they all made my Peeps taste much better, I really enjoyed the Barcelona, which has little bits of sea salt and smoked almonds in it. The graininess of the Peeps crust and the sea salt bits made for an interesting texture and riot of activity on my tongue with all that creamy chocolate and spongy marshmallow. Guanduja was my second favorite with the only drawback being the sweetness, followed by the lemon and peppercorns of the Amalfi. The Red Fire with its dark chocolate and smoky chili flavors was great on its own but didn’t match my high hopes for the fondue (not that it was designed for that!).
Someday Vosges will open a shop in Los Angeles and I’ll be happy to stop by and pick them up in person. Until then, I think I need to swear off chocolate deliveries at home unless UPS starts guaranteeing they’ll use a refrigerated truck.
Sunday, November 5, 2006
Recently my husband went to Chicago and called me from the Vosge homeworld asking what I’d like to have. I was really hoping for a Cardamom truffle (they call them Ellateria) but it turns out that flavor is part of a seasonal set and not made at the moment.
The new seasonal assortment is sold under the banner of Collection of Zion and features lots of freaky ingredients and flavors. I kind of enjoy such things, so I was curious to see what my mouth thought of these intellectually stimulating combinations of flavors.
Instead he brought home some other delightful chocolate spheres. Here are a few I tried:
Selassie (shown there in the center) - allspice + pumpkin = a mellow spice and soft chocolate ganache center gave it a custardy feel. The cloveness wasn’t really to my liking, but pleasant.
Ital - Blue Mountain coffee + fresh coconut = acidic, dark and bitter but wonderfully complex and nutty.
Zion - Red Stripe Beer + cocoa nibs = bitter and a little on the yeasty side with a dark complex and acidic crunch.
Budapest - Hungarian paprika + chocolate = mellow with a subtle spicy note that brings out some of the woodsy flavors of the chocolate.
Wink of the Rabbit - soft caramel + New Mexican pecan = milk chocolate is a nice change but a little sweet here, the pecan gives it a maple/woodsy flavor. The caramel is thick and a bit custardy.
It was a nice evening with my box of chocolates. They were all gone, lickety split. Never fear, I just got back from San Francisco and have lots of other exciting haut chocolates to talk about.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.