Chocolate Salon 2010
Last Saturday was the third annual SF Chocolate Salon, and proof positive that yes, eating too much chocolate can make you feel slightly unwell. Or maybe it was the sugar. Anyway, too much of a good thing is still a good thing, if it's chocolate.
The vast majority of chocolatiers were veterans of last year's Chocolate Salon, and my favorites remained consistent:
Amano-- semi-sweet chocolate bars (Jembrana is my favorite appelation of theirs)
Vice--semi-sweet chocolate bar with dried figs and anise (like Melanie)
Jade--all her bars are masterfully flavored, but my favorite this year is her new Terracotta (my friends bought a lot of her Genmai tea and toasted rice bars)
Marti--tropical fruit truffles (or bonbons, if you prefer to call her flavored ganaches in molded chocolate shells that) : buko-pandan, ube, senorita banana, and durian. I am still amazed at how she manages to capture the subtleties of those flavors. I wish she'd find an outlet in the Bay Area.
Coco Delice--my favorite cognac truffles, and really good peanut butter ones, too.
William Dean--while I'd prefer a bit less food coloring on my chocolates, his presentation was gorgeous, and the candy was pretty good, too.
New to the show, and already mentioned in the SF Chocolatiers thread: Clarine's Florentines. One product in her line, but brilliantly executed!
I had been looking forward to loading up on XOX's cognac or champagne truffles, but none were available, and their new tequila-chili truffle wasn't my cup of tea.
I'm sure there were other hounds there--what did you think?
I was there - and devised a system to avoid getting over chocolated. I had bags and took home with labels to do a chocolate tasting professional style - eg. spit out and rinse in between so I didn't get a tummy ache.
I am going to put more details on my blog as soon as I get time to type it up...but
I agree with William Dean - definitely the best executed of the group. Really liked the flavor balance in Jade, but none of the bars had the texture expertise of the high end chocolate bar makers (except Amano of course). Loved Amano's new Dos Rios bar. I already use their Ocumare and Madagascar in baking - love their work.
I liked Coco Delice and Marti and Vice as well. Our tastes must be similar. I also liked the Edible Love truffles, although the texture of XOX was better IMO.
Dolce Bella and Socola had some nice flavors. Push puffs had the best marshmallows of those on sample - liked the caramel one.
Bottom line I think that most chocolatier's that are at this are not the top of the line, with some exceptions. But there are a lot of decent ones and overall the event was a fun one. It wasn't nearly as crowded or miserable as I thought it would be.
Anybody try anything more at Cocoa Atlanta? Or christopher Michael? They were sampling only one thing which I didn't love, but they had nice looking stuff.
Jsaimd, though I've probably never met you, I'd let you have my proxy vote for buying chocolate. You're absolutely right about Jade: what keeps her bars from real greatness is the texture. Now, if Jade had the richness and silkiness of Amano while retaining the present balance and complexity of flavors, those would be among the best chocolate bars anywhere.
There didn't seem to be as many people as last year, but enough to discourage me from queueing up and trying more candies. I didn't even bother with the beverages. I'm glad the organizers learned from the first Chocolate Salon (which was painfully cramped) and got a bigger place.
Cocoa Atlanta was intriguing, as a new bean-to-bar chocolatier from far away, but they only had one sample while I was there--of a plain semisweet bar. And while it was good, it didn't convince me to spring $24 for a potato-sized chocolate "salami" with biscotti and amaretti, tempting as it sounded.
I tried the Plush Puffs S'mores marshmallow. Lightly toasted, it was pretty good, and I'm thinking of attempting a less sweet, more chocolatey version.
The bar at Cocoa Atlanta was pretty average to my taste, but their samples were very small. I didn't even realize they were a bean to bar, but their confection flavors seemed intriguing.
This side of the Atlantic I haven't found a great bean to bar that does great truffles as well. While I like some Cluizel candies, his bars are better. I heard Amano is thinking about doing truffles - I kind of hope they stay focused on bars, because they are doing some really interesting stuff. I visited their factory in Sept (yes I am that obsessed with chocolate) and picked up some white chocolate. My kids just about fainted when they saw mommy had bought both milk and white chocolate. However, their Jembrana milk and their white chocolate were both really really good.
I noticed this year at the salon there were a lot of white chocolate confections, and very few were good. Yes I am biased toward dark, but white chocolate is hard to get right IMO.
I was working the event (selling my stuff) and loved the Posh caramels and the Vice Fig with Anise.
Aside from the Florentines, I really liked the Posh bacon caramel with applewood-smoked sea salt (the best bacon chocolate combo there, I thought) and their Thai peanut caramel with ginger sea salt.
My honorable mentions went to Barlovento's sea salt bars (each with a different sea salt -- gray, red, pink and black), Truffles in Paradise's Heart of Gold very tiny heart-shaped truffles withg a lovely soft caramel filling (and I don't normally like the US-style hard-shell truffles) and Dolce Bella's masala-flavored bar.
And I thought it was much better organized than in previous years -- even though there was a long line at opening, the space easily absorbed the crowds. (Although the first few booths, particularly Poco Dolce and whatever was next to them stayed packed most of the time.)
And I really liked the Rouge et Noir booth... I could alternate chocolate and cheese!
I sort of laughed at the long lines at the front; my booth was near the back (by the alcohol) and the only booth back there that consistently had a line was the Rouge et Noir cheese. Every other chocolate booth in the back was easily accessible for most of the day.
Apparently the alcohol booths were not given any guidelines on attendance and most ran out early. I talked to them a bit and all were a bit overwhelmed by the crowds, having no idea they were expecting that many guests.
First taste I really liked Posh's truffle caramel, but their ganache filled chocolates were not good for the most part. The rose was way too strong, and this is coming from someone that routinely sticks a good amount of rose water in my breakfast cereal. But my husband thought their caramels were too salty. i could see that on retasting - i think i welcomed the salt more when I was so chocolated out. I would still be willing to eat more of the caramels though : ).
Wasn't a fan of the heart of gold - too sweet for me, no complexity. My husband independently agreed, and I don't like the chocolate blend Barlovento uses in their bars. But luckily there is enough for folks to have things exactly to their own tastes!
They posted some of the judging results. I have to say i don't really get it. They seem to give out so many awards, I can't tell what to believe. Although there are definitely themes that echo much of what folks have said here.
Also, finished writing up my thoughts on my blog
Here is the text for those that would rather not follow links:
The salon is a great event, and while the great chocolatiers of the Bay Area don't typically attend, there were some notable folks to watch. Three stand out as ones I will seek out in the future.
William Dean. I think these were the best executed chocolates there. They were beautiful of course, but the chocolate was in a nice temper, not too think, smooth ganaches, flavorful well balanced fillings, and nicely developed caramels. I only tried the coconut caramel, the lemon lavender (more lemon than lavender), the dark lavender (nice strong lavender flavor) and the carmelized white chocolate bar. The latter he just learned at the Valrhona institute, and while the technique involving slowly carmelizing the sugars in white chocolate, he is the first i have seen put it back in bar form. The flavor is somewhat like a sweet dulce de leche.
Marti. This chocolatier is playing with tropical flavors like ube, durian, carmelized banana. Since I am currently on a tropical, asian dessert kick I was excited to try these. I especially liked the durian (mild durian flavor - no need to plug the nose), and raspberry rose. Jason loved the banana that I didn't get to try. I wanted a bit more out of the ube, but that is a really hard flavor to capture with the dominance of chocolate. Again, will be trying more of these.
Cocoa Delice. This is a Bay Area company. Their passion fruit was the first I tried, with a smooth ganache and nice bright flavor. But in my opinion, passion fruit is the easiest chocolate flavor to pull off. It marries so well. round 2 - peanut butter. Easy to pull off too you say? Well, I can tell you that there were many not so tastey peanut butter chocolate combos at the salon, but Cocoa Delice's I have to say was the best version i have had. Deep roasted flavor, followed by a perfect saltiness and a fun flowing texture. Mmmm... On to the salted caramel, my test of chocolatiers. They have a nice salty caramel, medium dark. Good balance - nicely executed.
Not new to me, but my tastes reminded me of their top quality work is Poco Dolce . They have great depth of flavor and one of the few that pull off a good temper. Their toffee melts away, with its deep notes and plays so nicely with the other flavors.
And Amano - I love Amano. I made my husband visit the factory and buy copious amounts of Amano in bulk for desserts. I love their texture and most of all their flavor. Each bar is bright and complex, and their new Dos Rios bar is no exception. Citrusy in a way that few bars are, with a refreshing summery flavor, floral with a bit of earthy underneath. It lingers. It's wonderful.
Other local chocolatiers were present with some fun and bright flavors. Their ganaches and couveture are not as nuanced as the ones I mention above in the samples i tried, but they did a very nice job with balance. I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up at these fine artisans.
Dolce Bella has some nicely flavored spice flavors. Socola had Asian inspired flavors and a bunny suit too. Vice sampled a very nice fig and anise bar and a spicey passion fruit thai chili for folks that want a real kick. Barlovento truffles have very "true" flavors, bold enough but natural but I am not a fan of the bars. I only tried one from Saratoga - the five spice. Fun flavor.
The infused bars can't be forgotten. I loved the flavors, but hoped for better textures from each. Coco-luxe has a sage bar, which was fun and made me want to try the sage pine brittle. Jade continues to make high quality infused flavors and their chocolate covered edamame are addictive. I enjoyed the peppermint tea infused bar from the Tea Room other flavors of herbal teas were rather subtle.
Then their are the rustic truffles. Who could pass up the circus tent of Edible Love. Fresh that day, the flavors shined. Tasting two days later was less successful - so eat them quickly. XOX. I have always liked XOX, especially the caramel. Their texture is meltingly spot on, and the freshness shines through. Their vegan truffles are one of the few vegan delights worth eating (sorry vegans, but cream holds a special place in my heart). Finally there is NeoCocoa. A tiny little outfit running out of La Cocina. I have tried their goods at the SF Ferry Building Farmer's market, and I just didn't fall in love. But in my tasting I let the truffle linger as it should. These are lingering truffles. Gobble it down, you miss the nuances. Let it linger, and you get that burst of salt midway through the almond truffle.
Finally, there are confections. Two were of note: Clarine's Florentines (yes Gluten-Free!) with a wonderful execution of the classic almond treat. And Plush Puffs. There were a lot of marshmallows there, but these stood out, particularly their caramel flavor. Not starchy, pure, fluffy and creamy.