BY LUCIA CHUNG
I know my stomach has its bounds, which is why I always tell people to plan ahead and research which things they want to try at various food/wine/beer events. This time around though, it was different. Why? Because the star was chocolate–unadulterated, unctuous dark chocolate. I gave myself a license to indulge during TasteTV’s Chocolate Salon at Fort Mason‘s Herbst Pavilion and threw all caution (and my budget) out the window.
Attendees of TasteTV’s Chocolate Salon are required to pay an entry fee in order to sample chocolate from all of the vendors. After much in-depth sampling, they of course have the option of buying boxes/bins of whatever they like. This time around, there were 56 vendors giving out samples of truffles, toffee, pure chocolate, macarons, balsamic vinegar, wine, beer, vodka and caramel popcorn.
Even though there were lines, people had no problem getting a taste of everything, although one extremely popular toffee vendor, Toffeeology, was completely cleaned out by 2pm. Neo Cocoa, one of my favorites, also started selling out of their more popular flavors by 2pm as well. So, as far as tips go, my only suggestion would be to get there a bit early, and maybe give yourself a budget for how much you’re willing to spend to indulge your chocolate addiction. Oh, also, bring a bottle of water.
Now, not all chocolate is created equal, and there were definitely some standout vendors. The following is a list of people you absolutely must buy chocolate from at one point or another for any reason whatsoever:
Art Pollard is a wizard. As the founder of Amano, a US-based company, this man travels the world in search of the finest beans to take back to the States to turn into luxurious bars of mouthwatering goodness. These bars have shine, snap and a refined smoothness that are the hallmarks of well-crafted chocolate. His chocolate is the most akin to wine I’ve ever tasted, in that the subtleties and intricacies of the beans lend extremely perceptible differences in flavor to the end product. With each morsel, you’re truly tasting the bean and all of its nuances. When I asked him which varieties he personally favored, he went for the Dos Rios and the Chuao, which were my absolute favorites as well.
Dos Rios: Simply let this chocolate sit on your tongue and release its flavors over your palate–you will be amazed. Made from beans found in the Dominican Republic, Dos Rios chocolate tastes distinctly of bergamot, a citrus fruit whose fragrant oil is used to scent Earl Grey tea. For all of its richness, it is remarkably addictive–you simply won’t be able to get enough of it.
Chuao Reserve Dark Chocolate: Dark, dark, dark, dark, dark. The tasting notes for this Venezuelan bean include coffee, molasses, plums and blueberries, and the resulting combination is complex and simply delicious. Not for the faint of heart, this dark chocolate reminds me of a fine wine. Just a small piece will satisfy the largest of chocolate cravings.
Many vendors at the event combined fruity (guava, passion fruit) or savory (Sriracha, bacon) flavors with their chocolate offerings, but not many succeeded quite as well as Neo Cocoa. Christine Doerr, the founder of this San Francisco-based company, specializes in making truffle “hearts” that are dusted in cocoa powder as opposed to contained in a traditional snappy shell. The hearts came in zested lime, mocha, ginger and coconut flavors, just to name a few, but the zested lime and ginger were by far the most popular.
Zested Lime: The lime lends a brightness to the earthiness of the smooth chocolate that will perk up your taste buds. The bitter quality of the chocolate is balanced by a citrusy, sugary sweetness that reminds me of a sunny lemon chiffon cake: this truffle will spread a bit of happiness on your tongue.
Warm Ginger Root: The powerful ginger in this truffle is tempered by the texture inherent to finely crafted chocolate, making this combination a heartwarming one that will probably remind you of how it felt to sit on your mother’s lap. Extremely intense, just a small sliver will be enough to lift your spirits.
Other Chocolates of Note
David Bacco: For more “traditional” mixes of nuts and chews, David Bacco Chocolatier, based in San Diego, impressed with their refined selections. Whereas many of the vendors focused on truffles or otherwise flavored bars of chocolate, David Bacco stood out because of the quality of their caramel and nougat fillings. The center of their Tranquille chocolate (caramel and vanilla) somehow manages to be sweet and smooth without being cloying and sticky, as some caramels tend to be. The Crescendo chocolate, which had hazelnuts layered over almond nougat, had just the right amount of sugar to go with its wonderful chewy texture. The company makes single-source chocolate bars and has many ganache-filled treats, as well.
Chuao Chocolatier: Chuao Chocolatier was my most recent obsession, mostly due to the Firecracker chocolate bar (dark chocolate with chipotle, salt and popping candy). The chocolate in this bar is indisputably good, but I really just enjoy it because it’s fun to eat. The fine grains of popping candy fire off continuously as the chocolate melts, while the chipotle gives you bursts of heat. The salt rounds out the flavor. Though it’s not the purest chocolate experience, it’s definitely a party for your mouth.
As a card-carrying member of chocoholics anonymous, I can say that prior to this event, I already thought I knew what good chocolate tasted like. But, it wasn’t until I sampled the chocolates at this event that I truly began to understand what chocolate actually is. TasteTV’s Chocolate Salon will open your palate up to new flavors and possibilities, just as any good tasting event should. Keep an eye out for the next event, and until then, make sure you try the chocolates listed above to tide yourself over.