Forty-plus chocolatiers. As many as six tastes from each. Well over 200 bites of chocolate. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing – especially when you’re a judge trying to pick the best of the best, in 20 different categories.
Last week’s San Francisco International Chocolate Salon was an over-the-top indulgence of luxury and artisanal goodies. The final results of the judging were out this week, with a surprising amount of agreement among the judges.
You can check out the official winners here – but first, here’s a taste of my favorites:
Chocolates of my dreams
Everything I tasted from Gateau et Ganache (Palo Alto) was exceptional. Chocolatier Anni Golding seems to have a magic touch for creating filled chocolates with vibrant, perfectly nuanced creamy centers that burst with fresh flavors. Her lavender/Earl Grey truffles were spectacular, as were her new lime/tequila truffles. The French-style caramels had just the right balance of salt (quite a few others I tasted elsewhere went overboard). Gateau et Ganache was my best of show.
Seeds of a great idea
Motombo chocolates, from Nicaragua, had some exciting flavored rough-ground truffles, including green chili and tamarind. But what really blew me away were their hand-peeled, chocolate-coated cocoa beans. I bit into one and it shattered into a crunchy, intense burst of chocolate heaven. Available at the Chocolate Garage in Palo Alto.
Hipster Willy Wonka & Chocolate Elvis
These guys from Lulu’s Chocolates not only make some tasty raw chocolate products (plus cocoa butter balm and a wicked chocolate essence perfume), they also had the best outfits at the show. Now where’s my golden ticket??
Susan and Wendy Lieu, of Socola Chocolatier, were some of my favorite chocolatiers to chat with. The first-generation Vietnamese-Americans pull from their heritage (Vietnamese coffee or Sriracha truffles) and their imaginations (Stout or applewood-smoked bacon truffles). Starting as teenagers, they grew their hobby into a business, and their enthusiasm and passion left me excited to see what they’ll come up with next.
Best (mini) salespeople
Kids were front and center at NewTree chocolate’s booth – and what a great job they did! The young daughters of company principals chatted up visitors and told them about the various bars, some with add-ins like pink peppercorns (one of my favorite combos with chocolate). They did such a great job, I suspect they could be taking over the company before they’re old enough to drive!
The bars from Divine Chocolate are not only delicious, they’re fair trade product from a co-op of 45,000 farmers in Ghana, who also own a share in the company. So, while you enjoy creative flavor combos like orange-ginger chocolate bars, you know you’re helping empower farmers who never got a fair deal before. Tasty!
Honey, that’s expensive!
Amano, always a big winner at the Salon for their single-origin bars, is now producing gorgeous, jewel-like truffles (see photo at top). In one, you’ll find what they say is the world’s most expensive honey ($85/pound), from Yemen. It has an interesting, complex flavor that unfolds in tandem with the chocolate. Let’s say there’s going to be a lot of BUZZ about these!
Here are some interesting, attention-getting products worth a taste:
Salt Side Down – Umami #5 truffles, made with the umami paste of the same name, these hop back and forth across the line between savory and sweet.
William Dean – filled chocolates with lychee pate de fruit and jasmine ganache – and some of the most beautiful packaging at the show.
Her Coconess – Bittersweet Nibby Rocky Road rises far above a generally disgusting genre with house-made marshmallow and the inspired use of nibs.
Saratoga chocolates – strawberry/balsamic caramels had a lot going on, but it worked. I wasn’t crazy about the couverture choice, though.
CJ’s Toffee Talk – not just great traditional almond toffee, but pecan toffee that was even better.
Jade Chocolates – Thai basil and jasmine truffles are great first forays into new products for this company that creates wonderful, intriguing flavored bars (my favorite is the fabulous Jade Dragon’s Breath).
Neo Cocoa – old-school, undipped truffles are supremely silky, with subtle, compelling flavors like toasted coconut, almond butter topped with smoked sea salt and mocha cinnamon.
Goat Milk Candy Co. – new dried figs stuffed with goat cheese blended with orange zest and honey, then dipped in chocolate. Yes, it sounds like a bit much, but boy, did it ever taste good!
Vice Chocolates – their pear-ginger caramels totally wowed me!
Amano – their Dos Rios dark chocolate bar makes you taste chocolate in a whole new way.
Choclatique – these guys are sure having fun, making truffle flavors like PB&J or root beer float. But I happened to really like their tongue-tingling 91% chocolate (yes, you’re supposed to eat it, not bake with it!). Astonsihing, but it’s not bitter like most chocolates would be at that percentage.
Madécasse – milk chocolate even a dark chocolate lover (me!) could enjoy.
Kika’s Treats – the fabulous dark chocolate-covered caramelized graham crackers are still my all-time favorite among their products. Irresistible!
Clarine’s Florentines – as good as Florentines can get – and that’s pretty darn good!
Valrhona – it was nice to see this pioneer of single-origin chocolates at the Salon – as always, a class act.