Monday, January 23, 2006
I saw this article today about Jelly Belly chairman, Herman Rowland.
It’s an interesting profile of the man, who is of course a little unorthodox. I’ve found in my reading and research that most candy folks are a little unusual in one respect or another.
The saddest thing mentioned in the article though is that Rowland is now a diabetic, which must be especially difficult for a sugar candymaker (instead of one that makes chocolate which is often better tolerated by diabetics). Other interesting notes in the article is the recent announcement that Jelly Belly is opening a factory in Thailand. What’s surprising about this is that the factory will make candy only for non-American venues. The Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA, will continue to supply America will Jelly Bellys even though it’d be cheaper to take the factory overseas and not be subject to America’s backwards domestic sugar regulations.
The way Nestle is getting around the American sugar problem is they’re manufacturing most of their candy in Brazil and importing it.
The other announcement in the article is that Jelly Belly will be introducing new flavors at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. I got to taste the newest one, Pomegranate, when I was at the factory last month, I’m not sure if that’s one that’s getting its new release now. (It’s still not on the website.)
Finally, JellyBelly.com just relaunched late last week with an all new site. The navigation is much improved over the old one which had some things that I wanted buried in submenus. But I’m a little annoyed by the height of the header graphic/menu (which means more scrolling for main content even on my big screen, but then again CandyBlog.net readers probably do a lot of scrolling, too). The other sad thing is that they have these great downloadable desktop images but nothing new for January. But the news section includes info about their new company store and they’ve filled out their section on visiting them at these locations. The cool thing about visiting an official Jelly Belly store? They offer their comprehensive tasting bar. Never get a Jelly Belly you don’t like again.
Pesek Zman means “Time Out”, kind of like the tagline for KitKat bars is “Give me a Break”. They are, in fact, a nice little respite from a busy day and like the KitKat, easy to break off a piece and share (if you must). The shape of the bars and packaging is really cool, too.
The Black bar is dark chocolate with crispy wafers with a chocolate nut paste filling (hazelnuts and cashews). This is a pretty sassy bar. It has the light crisp, the nutty flavor of the nuts and the smooth creamy combination of the cream and the smooth dark chocolate. It’s lot of flavors and textures all at once, but very successful. It’s very sweet, but the hazelnut has a strange cooling sensation on the tongue that keeps it from being cloying and sticky.
The Peanut Butter bar is pretty much the same as the Black bar, only it has milk chocolate instead of dark and instead of hazelnut cream, it has peanut butter. It’s a good thing I’m typing this review, because I wouldn’t be able to talk while eating this bar. The peanut butter is very sticky, as in “sticks to the roof of your mouth.” My solution to this was to turn each piece upside down before I ate it, meaning that the peanut butter layer was on my tongue instead of the top of my mouth. It was much more successful that way, but the peanut butter in this bar is quite overwhelming in its texture and flavor dominance.
I have to say that this is a unique bar. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It reminded me of the Kliks, in that it’s a toasty cookie rolled up, but this one was far more delicate and had some more complex flavors going for it. The center of the bar is a loose, flattened roll of crisp waffle cookie (like a ice cream sugar cone). Then it’s covered with chocolate that can be sectioned off. When you break the sections, you can see right through the middle of the bar, just like the photo shows. The caramelized wafers are crispy and flavorful and there’s a good hint of hazelnut in the chocolate itself. It’s a very tasty bar with no real equal in any other brand I’ve seen. Of the three bars, it’s the one I finished first. The bar is slightly smaller than the others at only 42 grams instead of 45, but I wasn’t missing a thing.
If I were at an airport or international market and saw these, I’d definitely grab a few of the Reds. Even though the center was delicate, the bar traveled extremely well, making it all the way from Israel and then I carried it around in my “tasting bag” for weeks and it still looked factory fresh when I unwrapped it.
Friday, January 20, 2006
At my visit to Scharffen Berger last month I gave their full line another try. It confirmed for me that the bars I’ve tasted are fresh and true to the Scharffen Berger style. They’re complex and dark, with a lot of woodsy notes and a pretty overwhelming acidity that I don’t care for. There are exceptions in their line of course. The Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs are one. And one of their newer bars, the Gianduja is another.
I haven’t a clue how to pronounce it. I had the tour guide say it twice for me when she did the tasting and it still didn’t stick in my brain. (Perhaps JHEE-an-du-JHAH.) I want to pronounce it JHWAN-doo-jha ... hmm, how about I call it the Nutella bar? That’s what this is, a creamy combination of dark chocolate and hazelnuts. Only without the hydrogenated oils. It’s like a gourmet version of Ice Cubes.
This is a ridiculously fantastic bar. Really. It’s insanely smooth and nutty and melts so well on the tongue with a cooling effect that’s just stunning.
The price is also similarly ridiculous, but I’m guessing there’s a whole tree’s worth of hazelnuts packed into each bar, so that’s likely what you’re paying for. There’s 4 grams of protein in the bar alone. The bar is more soft and pliable than the others that I’ve had, again owing to the nut oils in there that have a lower melting temperature than the cocoa butter. It’s not too sweet and happily doesn’t have nary a trace of that acidic/dry bite that the other Sharffen Berger bars have. There’s still plenty of flavor, this is not just a Nutella bar. It’s woodsy and nutty with some smoky notes and a slight dryness.
Of course there are a lot of calories in it and a lot of it comes from fat. It’s candy, I know, but I think maybe they ought to suggest that the portion is not 1.5 ounces, but simply a single ounce instead. I responsibly took about a month to eat it, sampling a few pieces and then wolfing the rest of it today. It’s also pretty expensive and I haven’t seen it at Trader Joe’s. If not for that, I think it would have been a straight 10.
On December 2nd I had a fabulous day filled with seeing candy go from raw materials to finished product.
After my morning at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA, I toodled back towards San Francisco and hopped off the freeway in Berkeley to see Scharffen Berger.
Though I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of their stuff (or at least I wasn’t at the time), I was excited at the prospect of being let into the factory to actually see the process. There are very few factories in this country that allow people to just walk in off the street to see how they make their producuts. Scharffen Berger is the only chocolate factory and the tour is FREE. Scharffen Berger chocolate is like wine, it’s got a distinctive taste and is more for savoring its complexity than its hedonistic sweet satisfaction.
The building itself was started just before the great quake of 1906 (not quite finished at the time) and was completed and occupied immediately after that. It’s been through a few different incarnations but is a wonderful example of brickwork, with an impressive curved/vaulted brick ceiling in the winnowing room. The 27,000 square foot facility houses the chocolate manufacture, factory store and their cafe. The company only makes the raw chocolate here, the basic chocolate is then sent to an additional facility up north (I think Napa) to be molded into the their consumer bars.
The tour starts in a little room next to their cafe. People sit on the plain benches for a little lecture about the origins of chocolate and how Scharffen Berger makes theirs. Some of it is rather well known stuff and other bits of info are interesting. The lecture is long and I was antsy to see the factory itself. The environment of the factory itself is rather casual and of course it’s a small company so everyone seems to know each other. It gives a homey feel to the candy, that someone really cared about it. They also give plenty of samples during the talk, which helps everyone pay attention.
The chocolate making process starts in the jungles where Cacao is grown. The cocoa beans are harvested from squat, strange little trees that grow under the high canopy of the forest. They gather these large pods, as big as a large papaya and then hack them open to reveal the flesh and seeds within. The mush from inside is scooped out and allowed to dry. The seeds are separated from the fleshy detritus and allowed to bake in the sun to ferment at bit.
After the cacoa beans are ready, they’ll be loaded into big burlap bags and shipped around the world.
Scharffen Berger mixes their beans from different regions of the world and from different varieties of cacao to make their basic bars. Most of the bars (except for the single origin bars) contain beans from at least eight origins. This gives them a great deal of control over the consistency of the bars from year to year. Most manufactuers do this, otherwise chocolate bars would taste different every time we opened one. However, with the big guys like Hershey or Nestle, they have the advantage of quantity to give them consistency. Little guys like Scharffen Berger have to do it with variety.
After the lecture is over (about 40 minutes later) we’re given lovely hair nets and ear muffs. The machinery is literally deafening and without it on, we wouldn’t be able to hear the tour guide anyway.
The first room processes the raw beans. It holds the “winnower” which is a machine that removes the chaff and shell and skin from the cocoa bean to reveal the part that’s good for making chocolate, the nib. The nibs are then roasted, just like coffee would be in this large roaster. All of the machines are steel so the team at the factory uses magnetic labels to identify what origin of bean is inside.
The next part of the tour is the money shot, it’s the thing that people come to see, the image that lasts a lifetime. It’s the melangeur. What is that? It’s the mixer/crusher. The roasted nibs are put into this spinning bowl along with the additional cocoa butter and some vanilla and sugar (if it’s sweetened chocolate) and then it’s macerated by two huge rollers that crush the stuff together. During the tour everyone gets an opportunity to stand on a little riser to look into the machine. It smells quite good and the batch that was being worked on while I was there seemed to be rather grainy still and must have been far from done.
The next part, the conching, isn’t terribly sexy, as from my vantage it’s just a huge, closed tank. The concher is where everything is combined further under precisely controlled temperatures.
Next was the tempering process, which we didn’t get to see, but is basically where the melted chocolate is raised and lowered to particular target temperatures to aid in the formation of the perfect crystaline structure to the chocolate. If chocolate isn’t properly tempered it melts too easily, looks cloudy or may separate (bloom) more easily.
After that it’s ready for molds. At the Scharffen Berger factory they are only processing the basic chocolate product. The chocolate gets flavored and further made into bars or shapes at another facility. When they’re done with the tempering here, they make them into simple bars, which travel down this simple conveyer and meet a rather strange end falling into boxes where they’re shipped up to a facility north of San Francisco that ages the chocolate (chocolate is one thing you do not want fresh from the factory) for a few weeks before making the signature bars.
As free trips go, it’s pretty good. They have a rather cramped parking lot, but it’s close to public transportation if you want to take the BART and a bus from San Francisco if you’re in the area. I wish there was more to the factory part, but as a tiny working factory, there’s not much else to do other than breathe in the scents and take a few photos.
The building itself is rather interesting too, and the way that the company has cobbled together various bits of machinery from different time periods is also rather remarkable. I’m rather fond of old buildings and machines and I wish I could have spent more time looking at them. The gift shop is also really nice. I bought a few posters that I’m going to frame and of course I’ve mentioned their sassy tee shirts before. They have plenty of books, baking supplies and of course all sorts of their chocolate (some which they’ll let you sample there). The prices in the store are the same on the web, though sometimes they have little sale offerings.
There’s also a highly regarded cafe as well, Cafe Cacao, so making an afternoon of it is also a nice little treat. Tours require a reservation.
Weekday tours at 10:30 AM, 2:30 PM & 4:30 PM.
UPDATE: Scharffen Berger has closed their Bay Area factory and no longer offers tour at this location.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Whew! And I thought I liked Pocky? Here’s a few posts that might interest you from The Journal of Ephemeral Inspiration:
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.