Wednesday, September 14, 2011
While on vacation last week, I made a point of tracking down some locally made candies along the Central Coast of California. First up is Mehlenbacher’s Taffy which is made in Paso Robles, California.
The taffies are sold in long pieces, about the size of a cigar, quite different from the normal nugget or little twist. Each is 1.25 ounces, so I consider it a full serving of candy. The pieces are about 5 inches long and wrapped in a tough, thick cellophane and twisted at the ends.
The ingredients are very simple: corn syrup, cane sugar, butter and then flavorings and coloring (though not all are colored). They’re had pulled in the traditional fashion on a hook and then hand portioned and wrapped. They make 51 different flavor varieties, though none of the stores I found carries more than a dozen.
Here’s a little video from a local TV station about the company:
I first saw Mehlenbacher’s mentioned in a Martha Stewart spread (I think as a suggestion for wedding favors). So when I was in Paso Robles last year, I picked up the assortment you see pictured in this review. Then I ate them and didn’t review them. (Or maybe I lost a few.) So when I returned to the area again, I made a point of finding some more. However, I didn’t match the flavors, one for one. So the photos differ a little bit.
Root Beer is one of my favorite flavors of all time and one that goes really well with taffy. The root beer is good, I liked its blend of earthy flavors like ginger and pine along with a little menthol and wintergreen kick.
Root Beer Float is a twist of caramel and cream colored taffies. The root beer flavor is snappy, with a good wintergreen freshness to it along with a creamy butter and vanilla note to it.
Iced Coffee smells pretty rich, like a sweet, sugary coffee. The flavor isn’t quite that intense and has a creamier flavor than I anticipated (I figured it would taste like black coffee). It’s very much on the bitter and strong side of the coffee flavors, but really watered down with the sugary sweetness.
Peanut Butter was a mild looking, almost vanilla taffy. The flavor was sweet and had a great peanut butter note to it and was very smooth. I could have used just a little hint of salt, or maybe they should make a flavor called Sea Salt Peanut Butter for those who crave that.
Peanut Butter Cup is a twist of both the chocolate flavor taffy and the peanut butter. The scent was like peanut butter and cocoa. The chocolate part of the taffy wasn’t very chocolate (not like a chocolate caramel or anything that intense). It was all very mellow and woodsy, with a slightly chalkier chew from the cocoa and real peanut butter. Like the peanut butter, I think it would benefit from just a dash of salt.
Neapolitan is a twist of the classic strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavors. The scent of the strawberry dominated, with its soft floral and toasted sugar notes. But the flavor of the twist as a whole was just sweet and pleasant. The chocolate and vanilla didn’t do much and the strawberry was little more than the smell. The chew was soft and lasted a long time with no grainy finish.
Wintergreen was rather medicinal, cooling on the tongue but just didn’t feel like candy. This was a flavor I tried in my original assortment and didn’t pick one up on my re-do.
Hot Cinnamon is a twist of white and red. It was weird. The ingredients said it was only flavored with cinnamon oil, but it had a huge clove note to it, so much that my mouth was literally numb at one point, like clove oil often does. It wasn’t a hot, sizzling cinnamon. I liked the intense flavor and soft chew of it, but I did actually want more of the woodsy cinnamon notes.
Banana is bright yellow and completely artificial tasting, though the label said “banana extract” not artificial banana flavoring. It’s sweet and a little toasty, like a marshmallow. I enjoyed it quite a bit and think it would pair well as a twist for many of the other flavors. (Banana-Peanut Butter-Chocolate might be fun.)
The prices varied quite a bit. The first time I bought them at the farmers market on the square in Paso Robles (Spring 2010), this time I picked them up at Jack Creek Farms in Paso Robles for $1.50 each and some other flavors at Candy Counter in Cayucos for $1.75 each. The Mehlenbacher’s Taffy website (warning, it autoplays music) has them for $1.85 a stick.
On the whole, I’m not a big taffy fan. I appreciate the simplicity of the product, but once the flavor goes beyond a good malty molasses, I lose interest pretty quickly. So many taffies that I’ve tried taste about as interesting as the wax paper they’re wrapped in. This was different, Mehlenbacher’s is definitely doing something different here. It could be the use of real butter or the attention to the pulling of the boiled sugars. I’m still not inclined to keep buying it for an every day treat, but there are a few other flavors I’d like to try and I’m always up for some root beer.
I’d love to see an all natural line from them too, something with natural flavorings (though many are actually naturally flavored with extracts or peanut butter/cocoa) and natural colors - that would really set them apart.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.