7th Annual Chocolate Salon Festival in San Francisco
“Would you like a sparkling beverage with that truffle?” I’m 20 steps into the 2013 7th Annual Chocolate Salon at S.F.’s Fort Mason Center and am already immersed in an extravagant world of chocolate. There are deceptively simple chocolate bars, which become complex when you close your eyes and concentrate on the nuanced flavors.
There are sophisticated, creamy truffles, crunchy cacao nibs, beautifully airbrushed bon-bons, and exotically spiced, oozy caramels. Not to mention the beverages that help them to showcase their best flavors – from the aforementioned bubbly to some lovely wines, tequila, vodka, absinthe and even a chocolate beer from Almanac.
Expect the Unexpected:
*Bacon*: You heard that right. Nosh This delights with sweet/salty/bacon-y creations. Standouts are the Bourbon Bacon Rocky Road with Fleur de Sel (marshmallows? genius!), Salt & Pepper Caramels with their hit of black pepper, and perennial favorite Bacon Crack, a bacon- & almond-laden crunchy toffee enrobed in chocolate. My teeth ache at the memory – in the very best of ways! *Rice*: Jade Chocolates puts a light-hearted crunch into their Kuro Genmai with roasted brown rice. Another treat from Jade this spring is their Strawberry Pop Rocks Milk Chocolate Lollie. Sweet/tart strawberry-milk-chocolate-y goodness at the start, snap-crackle-and-POP! at the finish. Need I say more?
Some Like It Hot:
And by “hot”, I mean CHILI-PEPPER-hot! Continuing a growing confectionery trend, chocolatiers are shaking things up by adding a bit of burn to their bon-bons. In some cases, more than a bit. From Sixth Course, the Habañero-Chili/Passion-Fruit Caramel enrobed in perfectly-tempered white chocolate had my taste buds tingling, with a surprise bonus of plenty of fruity after-burn. Cocotutti’s Ginger Caramel with Peanuts & Thai Chili is another stand-out. What could have been a disastrous combination is instead a Thai-inspired triumph. Sôcôla offers up an impressive Sriracha-laced Dark Chocolate that strikes just the right balance of sweetness with the ideal degree of heat.
Fruit, Herbs & Spice, and Other Things Nice:
“Esoteric” White Chocolate Banana French Toast treat from brand new Mission Blue Confections was a yummy vanilla/banana-extravaganza. Also along tropical lines, the Coconut Rum truffle from Sixth Course is a barely-boozy, melt-in-the-mouth concoction with very finely-chopped & wonderfully fresh-tasting coconut. The new tea-infused flavors from Cocotutti are also memorable, particularly the Yunnan version with its fully-rounded tea overtones. Sôcôla’s Mint Truffle hits a refreshing home run with its bright herby flavor, and their Masala Chai Truffle gives an exotic buzz with its distinctive blend of cloves, cardamom, pepper & tea.
Tasting lines grew long & I discovered there is – sadly! – a limit to how many types of chocolate this keenly interested aficionado can sample. I steered my cocoa-buzzed self out the front doors of the exhibit hall and into the bright March sunshine. I took a deep breath of chocolate-free air, & started looking forward to next year’s show.
– Store chocolate at cool room temperature and out of sunlight. Variations in temperature may cause the cocoa-butter in chocolate to “bloom” (that’s when it gets streaky and/or grey). This usually doesn’t affect the taste, but it might keep you or your guests from appreciating the carefully crafted beauty of these treats.
– Don’t be afraid to try new types of beverages when tasting chocolates. For starters, smoky whisky, fruity dessert wines and dark beers are all terrific partners for even the most complex of chocolate confections.