A Decadent Day at the SF Chocolate Salon Festival

claire's squares flapjacksBetween Valentine’s Day and Easter, the Chocolate Salon hosts the sweetest day of the year in San Francisco. At their annual Chocolate Festival in Fort Mason, artisan confectionery companies (mainly Chocolate) handed out bit-sized, heavenly treats to eager crowds. Each year Chocolatiers clamor for the coveted Chocolate Salon awards which is like the Academy Awards for Chocolate companies. Besides chocolate, premium wineries, distilleries, and breweries were cleansing attendees’ palates. Here is a synopsis on some of the treats that will surely satisfy any sweet tooth.

Neo Cocoa, Unshelled Chocolate

Christine Doerr, owner/founder, makes a melt in your mouth Truffle. For Christine, it all started with her very first job in a Chocolate Shop. She worked 10 years as a Pastry chef and another 7 years as a Graphic Designer. On her 40th Birthday, Christine was ready for another career shift. She asked herself, “What would I do for nothing?”

neo cocoa booth neo cocoa close up on chocolates

Reminded by her infatuation in her earlier days as a Pastry Chef, Christine was both enamored and intrigued by the way a fellow Pastry Chef made these divine Chocolate Truffles without the a traditional hard chocolate shell. She nostalgically reminisced nibbling on these soft ganache Truffles. So inspired, Christine decided to name her company Neo Cocoa, which means “new chocolate.” She even drew upon her Graphic Design experience to create the look, logo, packaging, and website. Christine has 10 year-round flavors and creates a new truffle each season. Neo Cocoa’s most popular flavors are Milk Chocolate Salted Caramel and a Dark Chocolate Almond Butter topped with Applewood Smoked Salt. Her favorite flavor is Toasted Coconut. Neo Cocoa can be purchased at selected San Francisco Bay Area Whole Foods, San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market, La Cocina Kiosk, Ferry Building, other selected retail locations, and online: http://www.neococoa.com.

Clairesquares, Irish Treats

Claire Keane grew up in Ireland, and as a kid, she loved going through her mother’s old recipe books. She began making, baking, and selling Caramel Squares to her friends at school. For 7 years, Claire pursued a career in Environmental Science in Ireland and later in San Francisco. She began to lose interest in her career, and her friends expressed how much they loved her Handcrafted Irish Treats.

claires squares table

With encouragement and support from her friends, Claire wanted to make these traditional Irish, English, and Scottish treats for Californians. Claire enrolled in San Francisco’s non-profit La Cocina program, which mentors food entrepreneurs. Unlike other California Chocolate Companies, Clairesquares uses Belgian Chocolate. Claire’s first and signature treat is Chocolate (milk and a dark) Caramel Shortbread. Her other Irish confections include: Buttery Shortbread, Caramelized Oat Bars, and Flapjacks.

Claire told us in the interview that, “I went from the green movement to the food movement.” She hopes to become a nationwide brand some day, but for now, these Irish handcrafted treats can be found in Specialty stores in San Francisco Bay Area (Andronicos, Bi-Rite Market, La Cocina Kiosk at the Ferry Building), in Southern California, Portland, and Seattle. Clairesquares can be purchased on her website and soon through Amazon Fresh: http://www.clairesquares.com.

Marich Confectionery, A Rich Chocolate Making History

Brothers, Brad and Troy van Dam picked up where their dad left off in the candy making business. Brad, the CEO, was originally in the Electronics industry and jokingly mentioned “my dad couldn’t afford to hire employees, so he asked my brother and I for help because he needed cheap labor…free labor”. Brad’s and Troy’s dad instilled his old-fashion Dutch values onto his sons by making them start at the bottom of his Chocolate Enterprise. Eventually, they worked their way up by doing every job in the factory and even helped physically build it.

marich chocolatesIn 1984, Marich Confectionery launched a most unusual Chocolate Cherry confection. Instead of using the artificial Maraschino Cherries, they used dried Cherries. Many products later, this is still the Marich Confectionery most popular chocolate flavor. In almost 30 years, their product line has increased to Chocolate Blueberry, Milk Chocolate Toffee Almond, Chocolate Espresso Bean, Dark Chocolate, Sea Salt Cashew and so much more. One of their newest product is a Coconut Milk Chocolate Caramel made with Palm Sugar. Marich Confectionery has grown from a handful of employees to 140, and from a 13,000 square foot facility to a 70,000 square foot facility. They distribute their sweets across North America markets like Whole Foods, specialty stores, and even internationally. In fact, they are surprised by how popular their confections are in South Korea.

Brothers, Brad and Troy are proud of how they have successfully transitioned and grown their “mom and pop” business. Their family work ethic proudly continues as they walk the entire floor of the factory every day, and Troy’s son is continuing with the family tradition by working at an entry level position in maintenance. With great pride, Brad shared that they still have many of the same customers they had when it was just Dad’s business: https://www.marich.com.

Spicy Vines, a Good Bet

Spicy Vines started as a bet between Crystalyn Hoffman and her boyfriend Anders Pederson. Crystalyn decided to take a year off from her college studies to travel through Europe. While traveling, she fell in love with Mulled Wine or Glogg. When Crystalyn returned, she couldn’t wait to tell Anders about this amazing wine. Crystalyn was certain that no such wine existed in California. Anders wagered a bet that if he could find this wine, then Crystalyn had to make him a gourmet sandwich that would pair with it. Crystalyn said if he couldn’t find the wine, then, that meant they needed to turn this into a business.

 spicy vines boothComing up with the idea was the easy part, but making this type wine with no prior winemaking experience was much harder than they realized. The partners started in their mom’s kitchen and realized that they needed more expertise. They commissioned a food laboratory to create a safe blend. Spicy Vines sources their wines from small family wineries in Mendocino and Napa counties. They use a blend of premium wines, like: Zin, Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Grenache. With these traditional dry reds they combine it with a originally created simple syrup made from sweet fruits and mixed spices. Hence the name “Spicy Vines” gives this centuries’ old Mulled Wine (Glogg) a modern twist.

Spicy Vixen, (Spice Vine’s Spokeswoman), Jessica Choate, shares how “Spicy Vines is like having 3 different wines from one bottle.” Depending on one’s mood or the weather, the wine can be served hot, room temperature or chilled creating endless possible cocktail and food recipes. You can purchase Spicy Vines online or from some of these San Francisco Bay Area retailers: American Cupcake, Fred’s Liquor, Folsom Street Foundry, Faletti’s Foods, and Rainbow Groceries. They even have a tasting room up in Napa, and you can book them for special events. The Spicy Vixen motto is “Taking on the world one spice at a time”: http://spicyvines.com.

Soft, handcrafted, rich, and spicy best describes this crop of desserts and beverages at the San Francisco Chocolate Salon Event. More sweet days are ahead because Chocolate Salon hosts Chocolate Festivals throughout the year in other communities, like: Napa, Sacramento, Monterey/Carmel, Santa Barbara, Tahoe, Las Vegas, and Seattle: http://www.sfchocolatesalon.com.

For more additional photos and information on other Artisans at the San Francisco Chocolate Salon Event view: http://www.pinterest.com/foodguruchannel/meet-the-artisan-chocolatier-and-more/.


1 Comment »

  1. You made my mouth water describing the various offerings at this event. I’m a total chocoholic, so I’ll definitely plan to attend next year! Thanks for highlighting these wonderful artisans. 🙂


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