Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Limited Edition Ritter Sport Winter Kreation + Factory Store
You may notice a lot more about German candies on the blog in the coming weeks. I went there for a week of candy factory tours earlier this month and have lots of fascinating adventures to share. (I’ll try to focus on candies you can either get in the United States or are worth seeking out.)
Ritter-Sport is a large German chocolate brand with a unique selling proposition, its chocolate bars are square. Their standard 100 gram (3.5 ounce) bar comes in 23 varieties with another 3-9 promotional and seasonal variations throughout the year. In the United States there are about six core varieties on shelves, but some stores like Target will sell about eight. Even in Germany, I still only found about 14-16 of the versions at the stores (which included the Bio and Winter Kreation varieties). The best place in Germany to find everything Ritter Sport sells, naturally, is at their factory store.
The Ritter family started making chocolate in 1912, but didn’t introduce the Ritter Sport square bars until 1930. They’re becoming better known around the world as 35% of their total sales (over 20,000 tons of the 60,000 they produce) are now for export. (Russia is their number one customer, then Italy, then the United States.) The quality for a consumer bar (sold for less than one Euro) is excellent and the company prides itself on its innovation, ethical sourcing of their raw materials and quality of their products.
For the past two seasons in the United States I’ve actually been able to find the Ritter Sport Winter Kreations in stores. (Mel and Rose Wine and Liquors and a really good 76 gas station in Glendale on Glendale Blvd & Glen Oaks.) Last year the Winter Kreations limited edition set was Orangen-Marzipan (orange marzipan), Nuss in Nougatcreme (hazelnuts in gianduia) and Vanillekipferl (vanilla cookie cream). This year the Nougatcreme did not return but was replaced by Gebrannte Mandel (burnt sugar almonds).
The Ritter Sport Orangen-Marzipan bar is pretty special. When I got to Germany back in February of this year, this was one of the first bars I sought out and bought. After eating some of it, I bought the little assortment above plus an additional full size bar. Then when I was there earlier this month, I again bought a full size bar, since I think it’s the right proportion of chocolate and marzipan.
The bar is a little different from the classic Ritter Sport Marzipan bar in that it has a milk chocolate shell (sorry, it’s not vegan). It smells like fresh orange juice, almost like an orangesicle, actually, because of the sweet and milky chocolate. The chocolate is quite sweet and so is the marzipan center, but it all works swimmingly together. The orange flavors are both juicy and zesty, without being bitter. The marzipan is moist and sticks together like a cookie dough instead of being dry and crumbly. There’s a light hint of amaretto to it as well.
It’s terribly sweet, which is usually a turn off for me, but I enjoyed the decadent sticky quality, probably because it’s cold out and I usually want more sugar when I’m chilly.
I do wish that it was the dark chocolate shell though, but since this is the only other marzipan bar that they make regularly, I can understand wanting to hit the milk/marzipan market at least seasonally.
I don’t think I would have appreciated this flavor in the same way without my visits to the Christmas Markets in various cities. The Gebrannte Mandel stalls were ubiquitous (photo), sealing this confection as a definite seasonal fixture. It only makes sense that Ritter Sport would create a Winter Kreation that includes some toasted almonds with a caramelized sugar coating.
The base of the Ritter Sport Gebrannte Mandel is milk chocolate. Ritter Sport makes eleven different chocolate bases for its different bars, including several varieties of milk chocolate. This version has a cacao content of 30%, so a richer milk chocolate than most American consumer brands.
The bar is light in color, silky and smells much like the stalls at the Christmas Market, like toasted nuts and sugar. The nuts in this case are crushed (I’m not sure they’d fit well in the bar otherwise and might end up a little too crunchy). It’s sweet and the sugar coating on the nuts gives it more of a grainy crunch, but also adds more toasted flavor. There might be a hint of cinnamon in there as well.
Ritter Sport Vanillekipferl is based on the classic Austrian cookie called the Vanillekipferl or vanilla crescent. They’re rather like a Russian Teacake or shortbread cookie with nutmeal in it. (There are no eggs in the traditional recipe.)
The bar is like many of Ritter Sport’s, a milk chocolate shell with a cream filling. In this case the cream filling was slightly sandy with a very sweet vanilla flavor. I can’t say that I got much of the shortbread or nutty qualities out of it. It was decent, but not really different enough from Ritter Sport’s non-seasonal offerings.
The Ritter Sport Nuss in Nougatcreme was a 2010 flavor and was nicely done. It was a milk chocolate bar with a milky hazelnut paste center with a bit of a crunchy, crushed nuts. I didn’t think much of it one way or the other. Again, like the Vanillekipferl, it wasn’t that different from the regular nougatcreme bar.
All of the above bars, oddly enough, I bought at the grocery stores (Rewe and Aldi for the bars in February and Kaufhof for the most recent marzipan and candied almonds). Our tour group visited the Ritter Sport factory campus on our last full day in Germany on our way to Stuttgart. The factory is in the small town of Waldenbuch, which has less than 10,000. But it’s about a half an hour outside of Stuttgart (which has about 600,000 people and over 5 million in the metro area) which is the center of Germany’s auto industry.
The Ritter family created a museum on the factory campus. Not just a chocolate museum that shows how cocoa is grown, harvested and processed into chocolate, there’s actually an art museum there. The building houses four areas: an interactive chocolate museum (upstairs to the right), a cafe (in the back left), a factory store for chocolate (on the lower right) and the front half to the left is the art museum.
The exhibit while I was there fits well with the aesthetic of the square chocolate bars. They were selections from the Marli Hoppe-Ritter Collection in a variety of media. Most were paintings but a few sculptures as well.
All of the pieces had geometric elements and either bold use of color (in primary and secondary palettes) and rarely representational.
The space isn’t large, but is well laid out in four areas with tall ceilings and awash in light.
The Ritter Sport Factory Store is exactly what I want from a factory store. First, the prices are excellent. They are below the standard price for the bars (except for what you may find on sale) and they carry everything. There were no varieties or shapes that they make that I could not find on the shelves. The standard price for all 100 gram bars was .69 Euro (about 90 cents US). They were all fresh and in pristine condition and a pleasure to browse.
In the back corner was the spot that I love factory stores for. It was where the seconds and over-runs were for sale. If I lived in the area, I’d be sure to visit often to see what turned up. There were plenty of bulk items, such as the Schokowurfel in bags. Far off there in the corner were piles on the shelves of plain white wrapped bars. They were test bars of new flavors, so I picked up a few of those for later investigation and indulgence. They were only a half a Euro each.
The branded merchandise was nice. I liked the continuity of the themes, the colors and use of either the cross sections of the bars or the square shapes. However, the prices on these items were definitely premium retail. A little back backpack was 85 Euro. There were also large tins with the chocolate cross-section design - quite large and useful for only 7.50 Euro, but that largeness thing would have been an issue for getting them home. (But what a great gift idea to buy one of those tins, then one of the bulk bags of the minis and fill it up- the whole gag would be less than 20 Euro.) I picked up the coffee mug for my husband and filled it with minis for Christmas.
So, if you’re in Stuttgart and tired of looking around at the cars or just swinging through the area, it’s a worthy diversion to Waldenbuch. There’s also a Ritter Sport shop in Berlin (which I doubt carries the factory over-runs) that has its own merits for it’s interior design.
Maybe you’ll also catch sight of their company cars in the area: these were parked in front of one of the factory buildings. When we first arrived in our tour bus, there was a third. It was canary and said Knusperflakes on it.
Full Disclosure: My trip to Germany was sponsored by German Sweets, a government funded trade organization. While this provided me with excellent access to people in positions at the candy companies, in this case all of the products featured here were bought and paid for by me. Of course being at the factory store with its excellent prices which were a fraction of what I pay for the products in the United States probably prompted me to buy things I might not ordinarily. The Ritter Sport factory was not actually on the tour set up by German Sweets (though they’re members), but since it only took our tour bus 15 km out of our way on the last day of our travels, they agreed to stop at my request.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.