After coming dangerously close to death by chocolate at the NASFT Winter Fancy Food Show 2009 (life is good, ain’t it?), I was faced with the daunting challenge of selecting my favorite chocolates sampled from the dozens of amazing, artisanal, handcrafted, made with love morsels. But I’m hard core. I’ve done it. I’ve actually managed to narrow down the obscene number of very fine and fancy chocolates showcased at Fancy Food Show (San Francisco). I now present to you a list of chocolates so divine, inspired, and brilliant that you must try them to know what chocolate is capable of.
Best Chocolates of the Fancy Food Show 2009:
- Bissinger’s Handcrafted Chocolatier – Olive Oil Truffle
- Lillie Belle Farms Handmade Chocolates – Smokey Blue Cheese Truffle
- L’Estasi Dolce – Lemongrass Ginger Truffle
- Fran’s Chocolates – Gray & Smoked Salt Caramels
- Norman Love Confections – Award in Artistry
- Claudio Corallo Chocolate – Lifetime Achievement Award
1) Bissinger’s Olive Oil Truffle
When you taste Bissinger’s Olive Oil Truffle, you will wish that time could stand still so the moment of tasting never ends. The flavor is playful, dreamlike, and dissolves in your mouth like slowly melting satin. You will be taken away for a few exquisite moments, trying to capture the elusive flavor of liquid gold coaxed from the ageless olive trees of Crete. I closed my eyes and tasted a depth of flavor only the Mediterranean Sun could bestow.
Bissinger’s Chief Chocolatier Terry Wakefield began his mission to create this elegant truffle seven months ago and debuted it at this year’s Fancy Food Show.
We interviewed Terry, a wonderfully personable man with an air of delight about him. Understandable. How could you wake up not loving life if your title was “Chief Chocolatier” and you were making amazing chocolates for a living?
Apparently Terry’s love for chocolate ran deep from a young age, and in the seventh grade he spent all his money (earned slinging whiskey shots as a bartender in Alaska mind you) on his chocolate addiction. A childhood of well spent pocket money has served Terry well.
Interview with Bissinger’s Chief Chocolatier Terry Wakefield:
The Olive Oil Truffle is enrobed in a luxurious coat of rich milk chocolate, and perfectly accented with a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel on top, giving you a little burst of excitement every time your tongue hits a crystal.
Bissinger’s Olive Oil Truffle is like the Sophia Loren of the chocolate world. It will seduce you over and over again.
What do you get when a daring chocolatier marries the two great indulgences of the human existence: Chocolate and Cheese? Insane deliciousness.
Dubious unbelievers, take a seat. I’m for real.
Quite the story of serendipity, the unlikely coupling was created with Smokey Blue Cheese from The Rogue Creamery, Lillie Belle’s next door neighbors in Central Point, Oregon.
After 6 months of experimentation, and vile test batches, a light shone down from heaven above and the Smokey Blue Cheese Truffle was born.
With just the right ratio of Rogue Creamery’s “Oregon Blue” – incidentally, the first blue cheese made on the West Coast and the first blue ever smoked – organic milk chocolate, and roasted almonds, this creation breaks the mold in innovation.
Interview with Lillie Belle Handmade Chocolates Creator Jeff Shepherd:
Lillie Belle’s Smokey Blue Cheese Truffle is pure genius. But please, to my more adventurous readers, take heed of Jeff’s warning. “Blue cheese and chocolate do not go together. Do not try this at home.”
Sweet ecstasy is right, sister. Tasting L’Estasi Dolce’s Lemongrass Ginger Truffle was like wrapping fine silk around my tastebuds. Refined, exotic, and so sexy, the premium dark Guittard melts beautifully into the fragrant lemongrass-infused cream and bright ginger notes.
The flavor profile of this truffle is exquisite. The seductive lemongrass flavor perfumes your entire mouth with a tropical floral aroma, and the ginger lingers warmly in your throat.
Creator Rose Ramos-Benzel first launched L’Estasi Dolce’s Asian Fusion confections with a dark chocolate truffle made with pureed peanuts and crystallized ginger, a recipe that has been a family Christmas tradition of hers for years. Rose, who by the way is the most adorable woman I’ve ever met, has an energy great enough to power a small city.
Interview with L’Estasi Dolce’s Creator, Rose Ramos-Benzel:
Winos, L’Estasi Dolce has a special treat just for you. They routinely partner with some of the country’s leading wineries to custom blend Gourmet Wine Truffles. The Cabernet Wine Truffle is a knock out, and Rose promises me the Port Truffle is divine.
But for me, the Asian Pursuasion is where it’s at. Sensual and complex, L’Estasi Dolce’s Lemongrass Ginger Truffle is so smooth and decadent you will want to pop one in your lover’s mouth so they can share in the sweet ecstasy.
The milk chocolate covered Smoked Salt Caramel has a rounder, softer taste to it while the dark chocolate covered Gray Salt Caramel has more of a clean, bold flavor. I prefer the Smoked myself.
Both, however, are superb. The thin chocolate coating is the perfect wing man, delicately melting away as it allows the buttery soft caramel to shine. Fran has perfected the art of the salty sweet balance. One flavor plays off the other, pushing each element to new levels of excellence.
The President and First Lady have great taste.
5) Norman Love’s Edible Art
Norman Love Confections are so beautiful you almost don’t want to eat them…almost. Because in the end, you really do. Norman’s handcrafted veritable works of art taste as good as they look.
With a dizzying display of flavors to choose from, there is something to please everyone, ranging from sophisticated classics like the swoon-worthy Hazelnut Praline, to novel combinations like Mint Chocolate Chip and Vanilla Cupcake that will make you feel like a kid again.
When I met Norman Love at his booth, I thought he looked familiar. Ah-ha! Food Network Challenge. Norman created the concept of the show and has been featured as a judge for these quirky and entertaining, high-pressure pastry competitions. That’s not all Norman has done. His path to creating Norman Love Confections is studded with accolades and impressive experiences, including leading the U.S. team to a bronze medal in the biennial Coup du Monde de la Patisserie (world Cup of Pastry) in 1999, and opening over 40 Ritz-Carlton hotels during his 13 years as corporate executive pastry chef for the company.
Norman’s attention to detail is a mark of true craftsmanship. From the gorgeous package design to the taste and look of the chocolates themselves, every detail is impeccable.
Norman uses his chocolate as a canvas for creativity and expression. Each piece of work is hand painted, airbrushed, flecked with color, or swirled with one-of-a-kind designs.
Norman Love Confections brings it back to what giving chocolate is all about. Thoughtfulness, Pleasure, and Fun!
6) Claudio Corallo Chocolate, Lifetime Achievement
Amongst the hustle and bustle at the Fancy Food Show sat the unassuming table of Claudio Corallo. Do not underestimate the unassuming. The flavor profile of these chocolates is as complex as the journey made in transforming Corallo’s cocoa beans into the intense chocolate bars he calls his own.
Claudio Corallo’s story is inspiring, adventurous, and filled with an intense passion to share the flavor of the cocoa grown on the tiny African island of Principe. The island’s unique cocoa plants have Brazilian origins, and were brought to Africa from the Portuguese in the early 1800s. The seeds survived and flourished with the help of “taste-minded monkeys.”
Corallo honed his agricultural skills growing coffee in the Congo jungle for years. He has since spent nearly a decade on Principe converting an abandoned plantation into a world-class cocoa producing estate.
The best of the beans’ flavors are brought out through a 17 day fermentation process that Corallo personally developed (other chocolatiers ferment for an average of only 2-7 days). The cocoa beans are then carefully dried through a temperature controlled process – in specially designed bins – and finally, roasted in a small machine – also modified by Corallo.
The roasted beans are coarsely ground to keep the aroma intact and conching (a process that smooths out the chocolate through a kneading technique) is avoided. One taste of Corallo’s Chocolate and you can taste why.
The flavor is intense. This is chocolate in its raw, primal, beauty. The natural taste of the roasted beans is robust and rich, and the purity of fine ingredients sings. A little piece of one of Corallo’s tablets will take you far.
My favorite is the Soft Chocolate 70% with Cocoa Nibs. The bar contains only three ingredients: cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter. And the pleasant grit of the cocoa nibs are like fine espresso beans.
Claudio Corallo has devoted his life to this passion of his, tirelessly studying, searching, experimenting and innovating. Corallo and his team work and live, deeply entrenched within the environment that bears forth their product that is made with exceptional care, love, and pride. Thank you, Claudio. Thank you for your work, for your inspiration, and for your unforgettable chocolate.