Taste TV sponsored a new fall SF chocolate salon, November 14, in a smaller venue with fewer vendors than their usual spring salon, which made it easier to meet the chocolatiers and sample their wares.
These chocolate salons are a great way for people to discover local artisan chocolatiers (although not all exhibitors are local or selling chocolate), and they seem to be a good way for chocolatiers to introduce themselves to local retailers. More and more of these great chocolates are finding their way to Bay Area store shelves, such as at Bi-Rite in SF and Market Hall Foods (formerly The Pasta Shop) in the East Bay. Others are available online and at once-a-week local farmers markets, so if anything sounds interesting here, you might be able to find it yourself.
Winning prizes at these events probably enhances a chocolatier’s visibility too. I haven’t heard yet about who won awards at this event, so I’ll mention some that I thought were stand-outs.
Au Coeur des Chocolates (now Feve Artisan Chocolatier) [3 Silver | 4 Bronze Tasting Panel Awards], whom we first saw at the 2010 Napa Chocolate Salon with a super-cute gourmet s’mores kit, again brought interesting and tasty treats: 3 chocolate bars with crunchy seed/nut pastes inside: caramelized corn nut in milk chocolate, sunflower crunch in dark chocolate and sesame vanilla in dark chocolate.
Locals were raving about the corn nut version, but I liked the sunflower crunch best, maybe because it reminded me of peanut butter cups, but a little crunchier in texture. Unfortunately, the bar didn’t travel well in the unseasonably hot fall weather so I don’t have a snap to show. By the time I got the twisty bar home, it had melted to fill out its plastic pouch. Still tasted great, but harder to handle and definitely not photogenic.
New chocolatier, Salt Side Down Chocolates [3 Silver | 1 Bronze Tasting Panel Awards], gets its name from its instructions on how to properly eat its truffles: Since most of them have sea salt on top that complements the ganache, they’ll taste best if you put the truffle upside down on your tongue. (However, since these are pretty big truffles, your conversation will lag while enjoying them properly.)
Julie Herson, Salt Side Down’s owner, has been making truffles for 2-3 years, but just started the business this year. She uses fresh, local, organic ingredients as much as possible, bartering truffles for produce at local farmers markets. She has even found a local salt source in Mendocino that she’s using on some truffles.
Her truffles are mostly seasonal. At the salon, she featured truffles incorporating local roasted beets & balsamic vinegar, a wine reduction, and Tahitian vanilla bean & blueberries, in addition to Le Classic, a traditional dark chocolate truffle with some grey sea salt added to the dusting of cocoa powder.
Another new 2010 chocolatier, Coco Tutti (owner and confectioner Elyce Zahn) [2 Bronze Tasting Panel Awards], whom we first saw in May at the Sweet Shoppe event, had an expanded line of truffles along with her chocolate orange confit caramels.
New bonbons featured at the show included Elyce’s truffle version of Florentine cookies, Raspberry (made with her own jam), Espresso, and Ginger (which sold out before we had a chance to try it).
Elyce has been busy developing markets for her chocolates as well as new flavors. Look for her at holiday shopping events, such as The December Homegrown Marin Market in Sausalito.
The high-energy Elyce has several new truffles in the works. The one she mentioned that I’m most looking forward to is a Meyer lemon with lavender one with a surprise inside.
Holiday-flavored chocolates were the theme at many booths: Coco Delice [1 Silver | 2 Bronze Tasting Panel Awards], one of our 4-cups chocolatiers , debuted a new Champagne truffle, a pumpkin spice truffle and peppermint bark at the show. (All good.) Socola had a “By the Fireside” Winter Collection of 4 seasonal truffles: chai tea, hazelnut praline, champagne and pumpkin burnt caramel. Gateau et Ganache [2 Silver | 2 Bronze Tasting Panel Awards] featured their trademark flavor-bomb truffles in seasonal tastes of ginger, spiced red wine, cinnamon and Irish whiskey, plus fall-flavored marshmallows in vanilla bean, pumpkin spice and cranberry.
Gateau et Ganache also debuted a new truffle, La Seduction, featuring a single-origin chocolate ganache and soft caramel. Anni Golding, pastry chef/owner, said she wanted to create a truffle in her [flavor-intense] style that focused on a good chocolate. In this case, a 66% Ecuadorian ganache that does strongly showcase the chocolate.
Vice Chocolates [8 Gold | 2 Silver|2 Bronze Tasting Panel Awards] had themed truffle collections in exotic black & purple packaging at the show, such as Naughty & Nice. (Nice side includes M. Butterfly, Lady Lavender and other sweet-sounding truffles, while Naughty includes truffles like Vixen – dark chocolate ganache with passion fruit and chili pepper – a really hot chocolate experience ). Lush Collection featured beer-flavored chocolates, while the Royale Collection included the new Milk + Black Lava Sea Salt bar with the truffles. The new bar is a darker 46% milk chocolate sprinkled with Hawaiian Black Lava Sea Salt, definitely an adult milk chocolate — just what we’d expect from a company named Vice.
I asked some of the chocolatiers at the show what they thought about the current news of possible future chocolate shortages. My favorite response came from Chef Dennis of Coco-Delice. I am paraphrasing here, but he said what most of the other exhibitors I asked said, that he didn’t think it was anything to worry about. Plus he said, he’s seen these types of predictions before, like when there was a sugar shortage. He doesn’t think shortages are necessarily a bad thing because they focus people on coming up with creative solutions to solve these problems and new products come out of these crises.
Other local chocolatiers who participated in the 2010 Fall Luxury Chocolate Salon included:
- CJ’s Bitz
- Clarine’s Florentines
- Coco-luxe Confections
- Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
- Jade Chocolates
- Landru Chocolates
- Poco Dolce
- Saratoga Chocolates
- Snake & Butterfly
- Sterling Confections
- The Tea Room chocolates
A noteworthy non-local at the salon was Carlos Mann, founder of Momotombo Chocolate Factory & Ometeote chocolate making school in Nicaragua.