Thursday, August 30, 2007
Though my recent vacation was not as candy-filled as some other trips I’ve taken, I did get to stop at an actual candy factory outlet store. Unlike other “company stores” such as Hershey’s and M&Ms World in Times Square, this store features many factory seconds at hugely discounted prices.
Chocolates a la Carte is located in Valencia, CA in a non-descript industrial park just on the other side of route 126 from Six Flags Magic Mountain and a stone’s throw from I5. The store is only open two days a week and for rather brief hours to boot, but the timing of my trip couldn’t have been more perfect. The company makes a wide variety of chocolate products. Many of them you’d never know were theirs, they make little chocolate pieces that are used as accents on desserts and bakery goods or found served with coffee service at fine hotels and restaurants. Some of their other lines are manufactured for other companies as well as for their own brand called Signature Chocolates by Rena.
Getting into the store is more like a private shopping appointment. We entered the two story reception area and were greeted by the receptionist who called for the marketing person who operates the store. She unlocked the little room which was the sum total of their outlet store. I’m guessing in cooler months it’s probably open more continuously ... it was 98 degrees at 4:00 when we stopped there last week ... not really chocolate weather
The store however, does not disappoint in both its breadth of inventory nor in savings.
The products I was most interested in were the Truffle Tiles (which are so much like the ones at Choxie it makes me wonder) and Truffle Pops (which I saw at Bristol Farms but somehow couldn’t pony up the $6 for the set of 3). But of course there was plenty to choose from.
The truffle tile selection was a little sparse - so I picked up their classic trio collection for $3.50. I was also pleased to find the truffle pops available individually, though only in the Brut Dark Chocolate variety (which I figured was the best anyway) for only $.50 each. Holy Moly! Those puppies are $2 each in stores! So I bought $2 worth (four of them).
Truffle Tiles ($3.50 for a box of 3) - well, I’m never as keen on molded truffles as I am on dipped ones, so there’s a strike there (but hey, I’m the one who bought them so I can hardly hold it against them). The proportion of chocolate to filling in the tiles, as you can see from the photo is heavy on the chocolate coating, light on the filling. This means that either the filling is intense or so washed out that it really only contributes a speck of texture. These were middle of the road for me. Not intense, but certainly fresh and fun.
6 out of 10
Truffle Pops (50 cents each) - here’s a home run at 50 cents each. The shell is much thicker on these than a regular truffle, but the filling is definitely intense and creamy (and not even runny given its exposure to 85+ degree heat in the evening in my house). While I’m not usually keen on “painted” chocolates, especially ones that have sparkles or luminous metallic colors (mostly because I have no idea what I’m eating) this looked edibly appealing and smelled pleasantly of woodsy chocolate.
8 out of 10 at this price, they’d make a wonderful wedding or party favor, but probably down to a 6 out of 10 at four times the price.
Brandy Disks ($2.50 for a bag of 6) - these little dark chocolate disks with white chocolate squiggles were exquisite. If I were to go back there and find a huge bag of them on sale, I’d jump at them. The center is a Florentine-style caramelized cookie thing and then the chocolate coating. The center was crisp and crunchy and a little chewy like toffee can be ... a touch of salt and dark caramelized sugar flavors. The dark chocolate offset it nicely. I ate three in one night after I photographed them.
Seriously addictive ... I give them a 9 out of 10.
Salted Caramel Truffles ($3.00 for a bag of 8 “seconds”) - these little guys may not have been the prettiest thing I purchased, but they were tasty. The center was part truffle cream and part caramel. It was a bit on the custardy side, smooth and creamy but without much flavor but a nice little hint of salt. I wasn’t wild about them, but liked them well enough to eat them after the Brandy Disks were gone.
I give them a 6 out of 10.
As for the prices, they’re sometimes less than half the retail price charged on their own website:
Monet’s Palate(TM) Chocolate Couture $26.95 on website - $12.50 in person
While most of the the prices are great, as an outlet store you never know what you’ll find there. Also, some of the items they sell are retail quality, others are slightly flawed. I was told that the truffle pops weren’t quite up to snuff in their bronzy coating, but they looked fine to me. But the little salted caramel truffles did have some aesthetic and functional problems (some of them had little coverage holes in them), so they’re fine for eating but I don’t know if I’d give them as gifts or use them as a wedding favor or anything.
The chocolate they use for their creations is a combination of Callebaut, Guittard and Valrhona (usually marked as such).
I guess the caveat is if you see something while you’re there, buy it because you don’t know if it’ll be there when you go bag. You could probably buy one and try it right there in order to decide if you want more. (Seeing how the Truffle Pops are only 50 cents, how could that be a bad idea?) I would have bought more of the Brandy Disks if I followed my own advice.
Chocolates ? la Carte
As outlet shopping goes, I give this an 8 out of 10, I’ll definitely go back when the opportunity presents itself.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The mint market is well, full of mints. So what’s a company gonna do to distinguish themselves from the crowded field? Ver thinks it’s hit on the right balance of novelty, quality and qualifications. Their line of six different flavors are vegan, Kosher and gluten free, nut free and all-natural (and featuring many organic ingredients).
The blue tin was predictably Peppermint, their original flavor. Unlike a mint like Altoids, these aren’t blindingly strong. Just simply, well, mints. The texture is pleasant. Not chalky, but a little crumbly but sufficiently dense. The intensity of the mint grows (though sometimes one mint may be stronger than another) as it dissolves and leaves a breath-freshening coolness when it’s gone.
WinterMint is what I’m guessing is wintergreen since it features wintergreen oil in the ingredients. I think wintergreen flavor is undervalued in our culture and I blame Pepto Bismol for giving us the association of wintergreen with being sick. (Some additional blame goes to Ben Gay for making us think of locker-rooms and old people.) Upon reading a little more on the subject, wintergreen is not to be taken lightly as it can be toxic in very large doses, which you really can’t achieve with a tin.
This was like one of those big Canada pink mints (wintergreen is also called Canada mint), but not as chalky. Smooth and peppery, I enjoyed these quite a bit. There were also little bits of real peppermint leaves in the pastilles.
With my motion sickness difficulties I tend to eat a lot of Ginger candies. I like to strike a balance between their spiciness, the amount of actual ginger in the candy and of course the overall taste. Too much spice and I can’t maintain my intake (though fanning my mouth often takes my mind off of nausea ... so that’s effective).
These crazy mints have a lot of ginger flavor in them and burn on my tongue right away. It dissipates after a moment and I forget about the inital scalding by the time I eat another one.
They have two kinds of ginger in them: ground ginger root and ginger flavor. I think ginger goes particularly well with Maple Syrup.
It’s definitely cinnamon, completely spicy, kind of woodsy and a little sweet. There are peppermint leaves in this one too, but I think it would have been better to throw a few little bits of cinnamon in there while they were at it. But they didn’t ask me.
For a while I was pronouncing this as Very Mints ... not realizing, first that they were spelled Ver with no I in there after the Ver. It wasn’t until I got the VerMONT connection that I understood the name. I still think Very Mints is a good name, too. I might start calling the state it Very Mont.
The two flavors that set this set apart are the flavor combos. This one, Chai features Fair Trade teas from Honest Tea. Of course this means that this ingredients simply say that it contains “Organic Chai Tea” which is a pretty vague thing, kind of like “cake mix”. I can taste a bit of the black tea background, some cinnamon and strong clove, a little nutmeg. I’d have liked, of course, more cardamom and perhaps vanilla notes. And less clove. Just make a clove mint and leave clove out of the other candies.
It’s pretty good and a nice change of pace from the others. The spicy notes are refreshing and I think gives me pleasant breath.
The last flavor is Cafe Express which features Fair Trade coffee from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The ingredients list both coffee and natural coffee flavor and they certainly smell like sweet, sweet coffee. The flavor is a little less intense, mellow and coffee-ish. On the good side of that, there’s no coffee breath afterwards. On the bad side, they feel more like candy than a breath mint. Not that there’s anything wrong with that since they’re pretty much gone now.
Overall I prefer the texture of these to Altoids, they’re a little smoother and the binder gums in there give them a very slight slippery feel on the tongue as they dissolve. The flavors are more pleasing than the similarly-textured Pastiglie Leone and completely different from the also-vegan friendly St. Claire’s Organic Mints.
Curiosities & other facts associated with these mints:
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
No, it’s not German candy week ... it’s purely a coincidence that I bought those Katjes and then my husband picked up this cool box of Ritter Sport Schockowurfel on a recent trip to New York City.
Instead of the regular sized bars, these miniatures are about the size of a regular Ritter Sport “section” ... and they’re filled as well! Kind of like little truffles. The variety is called in 6 pralingen Sorten ... which I’m guessing means an assortment of six pralines.
The bottom of the box is folded in such a way that when I removed the top the bottom expands to make more of a bowl ... which makes it easier to rifle through the assortment to see what they all are. Luckily there was also an inventory with images on the side of the box to guide me through them all.
The wrappers are all distinctive enough in color combos that I got good at telling what they were at a glance.
Creme Coco isn’t something chocolatey ... nope, it’s milk chocolate with a coconut center. The coconut is certainly sweet, as is the milk chocolate, but the small size makes it pretty agreeable. It reminded me a little bit of the limited edition Hershey’s Coconut Creme Kisses, in a good way. This coconut was a little firmer, a little crispier.
Cappuccino & Amarettini was not one I was looking forward to, since I assumed it was going to be heavy on the amaretto (as the marzipan bar is), but it was much more focused on the coffee notes. Very sweet, so sweet it made my throat burn for a bit.
Tiramisu on the other hand had that amaretto flavor, but distinctive marscapone note.
Caramel Crisp was kind of odd ... the filling was light in color but reminded more of the yogurt Ritter Sports. There were some dark caramelized sugar flavors in there and some light crispies that kind of redeemed the cloying sweetness.
Crocant reminds me of the great Knusperflakes that Ritter makes, though I think it’s actually crisped rice ... the little crispy bits are inside a softer cocoa cream center. Simple, fun, tasty.
The assortment had some nice variation and is a pleasant change from the monotony of buying a whole bar and being force to consume it before you can move on to another flavor (okay, maybe no one forces me). It’s easy to share them and they look pretty sassy in their simple little wrappers. I’d love it if some were dark chocolate though, as I think Ritter is making great strides in the dark department for a mass-consumer chocolate company. I have no idea how much my husband paid for this ... I can’t even find it on the Ritter website. I did see that they have another morsel-sized chocolate simply called Rum; if it’s anything like the Rum Trauben Nuss, I’m sold.
Monday, August 27, 2007
As German candy makers go, in my mind Haribo is most associated with Gummi Bears and Katjes is most associated with Licorice.
So here are some Katjes products that are gummis ... I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about them, mostly since I’ve never felt the need to stray from my favorite brand (except of course in service of Candy Blog). But back at the beginning of the year I got an email though, from a reader name Charlene who suggested the Katjes Saure Ananas (Sour Pineapple) ... which sounds just like something I’d dig. Though GermanDeli.com carries them I usually just wanna hold the package in my hand, so I went off to Cost Plus after browsing their online ad and seeing that they had Katjes on sale at two packages for $4.00. While I never found the Saure line, I did find a few other items.
Tropen Fruchte sounded just my speed in the gummi department - based on the cognates and pictures on the wrapper, I decided these are Tropical Fruit. (Okay, okay, the back of the package had an English sticker that said Tropical Fruit Gummis.) What appealed to me most was the supposed grapefruit gummi that was to appear inside.
I’ve gotta give them credit, there’s no need to ponder what the flavor are (once you translate them) ... they’re molded into each and every one: Grapefruit, Tropika, Exotic, Mango, Kiwi and Passion Frucht.
Regardless of what the candies actually said, they all tasted rather the same. Oh sure, the tropika tasted a little more like pineapple than the exotic, which tasted a bit more like passion fruit, but I felt the passion and intensity lacking in all of them.
And of course the grapefruit could not rival my other best pal, the Haribo Pink Grapefruit Slice. Katjes was more of a mellow lemon with a little grapefruit zest in it.
The other item I picked up was the Katjes Yogurt Gums. I have no idea what I was thinking. It’s completely unlike me to ever get anything “yogurty.” As a dairy product, I think yogurt is fine but I don’t like it in other things or even the flavor of it in other things. It’s just a personal thing.
The flavors sounded interesting: Himbeere, Erdbeere, Birne, Heidelbeere, Zitrone and Kirsche.
When I first tried these I detested them. They were soft and felt rather like something for a baby.
However, after letting them sit in the bottom of my desk drawer, then being retired to “maybe someday when I’m feeling too lazy to take new photos I’ll review these” box I tried them again. No longer as soft, but oddly grainy like a pear is, I kind of dug them.
The flavor wasn’t terribly tangy in the “dairy gone bad” way, more in the natural tangy fruit way. The gums have real apple pulp in them, which is probably why the pear (birne) one tasted and felt so authentically pear-ish.
I can’t say that I feel like buying either of these again, but I’m pleased that they use no artificial colors and often have fruit pulp, natural flavors and fruit juices in the candies. But for now, I’m going to stick to their licorice or pounce on their sours when I finally find them.
Friday, August 24, 2007
On my vacation to the central coast of California I stopped in a lot of candy stores. If there was a candy store nearby, you can be sure I went in. There was something sad about most of them. I don’t know if it was that tourism is down in that part of the state or what, but the shops were just not that appealing to me. (You know I love candy stores.)
Part of it was the merchandising. The stores just didn’t feel fresh, the inventory wasn’t “fluffed” to look inviting and tasty. I also noticed a few new “taffy” stores. These are stores that pretty much only sell taffy and often for $6 to $9 a pound. What a great business that is!
Seriously, taffy is one of the cheapest candies you can buy wholesale. At about $2 a pound, that’s a 400% margin. (Of course if you’re running a small chain you can get even better deals.) There’s very little maintenance involved ... you just get some big containers like barrels or whatever and mound the stuff up. Give people a basket or a bucket and tell them to go to town. Taffy is fluffed with air, so it looks like a lot of candy and of course taffy has a strong association with vacations.
I didn’t buy any. I’ll have to post about taffy someday, I guess, I’m a candy blogger.
I did pick up a couple of pieces of fudge (well, one was fudge and the other was penuche). I ate it, so no review or photos. Hey, I was on vacation!
In other candy news, more Mexican candies have an alert out on them about high lead content. This time it’s the brands Miguelito and Barrilito. California inspectors have stepped up their testing of Mexican candies because they are so frequently found to fail the standards, so here’s to hoping that these get pulled from shelves soon. (Original notice from the California Department of Health - PDF.)
In items that have not been recalled but contains bug parts, here’s a curiosity called Edible Ant Farm Candy. Yes, it’s a slab of transparent hard candy that looks like real ants in their native ant farm habitat. Such a strange experience. I’m fine with eating chicken eggs, but I don’t like to pretend they’re still in the nest or anything. (Image swiped from CandyWarehouse)
Brits will be happy to hear that Cadbury is bringing back the Wispa. The bar was discontinued in 2003 and like our good old American Mars bar, when they brought out the replacement, the Dairy Milk Bubbly ... well, it wasn’t the same. I guess it’s a great sign that we should never give up hope. (Check out the current poll ... vote for what you’d bring back from extinction.)
This week’s reviews in review:
Monday: Chunky (6 out of 10)
Tuesday: 3 Musketeers Mini Mix (7 out of 10)
Thursday: UK Smarties (no artificial colors) (6 out of 10)
Friday: Jones Soda Grape Carbonated Candy (6 out of 10)
Weekly average: 6.25 ... 75% chocolate content.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.