Attending a chocolate festival has been on my bucket list for a long time but it seemed that every time I searched for one in my current city I had always *just* missed it! Not this time, I googled chocolate festivals several months ago and put Portland's Chocolate Fest on my calendar for the weekend of January 18-20th several months ago. I didn't know what to expect having never been to a chocolate show before but I was pleasantly surprised and also appreciated the discounted prices and plentiful samples from the abundance of exhibitors.
Below are reviews of the more notable tasting experiences I had. Most of the companies present were from Portland with a few from Seattle and California, a very local event and a benefit for the World Forest Center. Forests and chocolate, how could you not support an event like this?!
Smitten-Truffles These were some of the best truffles I had at the show, I actually bought a box of 12 truffles they were that good! The taste tests were just tiny spoonfuls of the ganache filling from 4 different flavors they had out. The Kalamansi + Creme Honey was surprisingly tasty with a strong citrus flavor from these Philipino fruits was nicely paired with the sweetness of the honey. There was also a vanilla and salted caramel, a contemporary classic flavor pairing that was sublime on my tongue.
Arrowhead Chocolates - I grabbed a card because I liked thier truffles, but I can't recall what I liked specifically :/ next year I will be taking notes!
George Paul Chocolates - From Seattle this company was started when George made chocolates for his girlfriend, she took some to work and a co-worker asked him to provide chocolates for her wedding and from there George ventured into the chocolate business. The bar I tasted was a milk chocolate coconut curry that was delicious however the chocolate was only sold in bar form, you couldn't buy the cute little bean shaped tasters he had out. If I could have purchased a bag of these bean shaped chocolates, I would have! Also his story was inspiring for my own dreams of a chocolate company, I have a ways to go though :)
Cocotutti - Last year's winner of the people's choice award these guys had a great variety and tasty, tiny samples. That was my favorite part! They somehow made tiny (1cm square) filled truffles for sampling. I would have loved to buy a box of these tiny truffles but they were just for samples! I'm noticing a trend in my attraction to chocolate in small sizes!
The Great Unbaked - Raw chocolates that were super delicious. I purchased a single orange-dark chocolate truffle that I look forward to savoring. It's nice to see a chocolate that is raw, dairy-free, gluten-free (though all chocolate ought to be GF!) and non-GMO! It would be great to eat this chocolate all the time and not be worried about the sugars and other ingredients that you want to avoid. I have a few friends who I think would love these chocolates, perhaps next year, when i go with the anticipation of spending, I will pick some up for those friends :)
IKEA - They had their collection of chocolate bars out for tasting, I tried the milk chocolate dark chocolate and a mint chocolate bar. They were all tasty but if I'm looking for fancy chocolates I would go elsewhere. It wasn't anything special.
Kallari - I was most excited about the business structure of this bar. It is the only farmer owned chocolate bar in the world. All of the proceeds go back to the farmer! They had a 70% (my favorite) 75% and an 85% bar. No fancy flavors, just quality beans and the most fair-trade bar you can get.
Scharffen Berger - This San Francisco company has been known for it's quality chocolate bars for a long time, and what I was most excited about was the public survey they were doing for a new line of truffles and bars! They asked about the packaging and shape of truffle people would choose as well as a choice of wording to be put on their packaging. That was fun and I signed up to be part of future focus groups! I would love to be a regular in chocolate focus groups! Hopefully that happens soon :)
Chocolate Rouge Wine - I had seen this in the grocery store and was always curious but afraid to buy an entire bottle. I can see the appeal and I know there is a market for this (I think my mom would love it!) but it just didn't do it for me. I started with the dark red and I could taste the notes of chocolate but it was a little too dry. Then on to the sweet red which was better, smoother but not a wine I would want a whole glass of, let alone an entire bottle! Then the blended chocolate and red wine, it was like Bailey's (which is how the guy pouring described it) but it had the bitter kick of red wine whereas Bailey's, to me, is sweet and creamy. I am glad I got to taste these wines, because it quenched my curiosity, but I won't be purchasing them.
As far as my own chocolate business I plan to open someday, I'm feeling both more inspired and also realizing that I have a long ways to go to be professional! Hearing the story of George Paul, I'm also realizing that I will need some kind of 'break' to push me into production. meanwhile, I will continue to try new chocolates (when I'm in New York in February I will be giving myself a chocolate tour of the city and hopefully bringing back a selection!).
Another thing that amazed me with the large number of chocolate companies there was how each one has carved itself a niche from raw and vegan to unique flavors and quality design with quality chocolate, knowing what makes you unique is a great way to stand out in a room full of people who are selling the same product as you. This was a great experience and I will definitely be going back, and hopefully attending more food shows in the future!
There were also reps for a couple companies that follow the Tupperware model of in home parties, one for kitchen supplies where the woman comes and bakes something and everyone goes home with a sample of food (who doesn't like that?!) I'll be looking into hosting some, but I think I will wait until the Spring.
TL;DR I will be going back next year, with more cash!