Sunday, November 23, 2008

Utah Chocolate Show 2008 Report

Well, another chocolate show has come and gone. Even though I've known about this one for months, I still felt like it caught be off-guard. I heard nothing about it from anyone, I just had to keep watching the site, when I remembered. Fortunately, I remembered a few days before the show, and did not miss it. I also only managed to show up for one afternoon, unlike other years where I spent a couple of days there.

I've gotta say, my experience was marred before I even got in the building. I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to do the Gun Show at the same time, but the Sandy Expo Center's parking lot isn't even big enough for one show at a time, much less two. The scary part is, it looked like there was an entire other exhibition hall available, but I could be wrong. The Gun Show might have extended it into it, and I would never have known, because I was only interested in the chocolate.

The show was a little smaller this year than in years past. I attribute this to two things: the wonky economy, and the University of Utah vs BYU game. Sometime around the late afternoon, many of the spectators took off to watch BYU take a thrashing from the Utes. I took off not too long after that, knowing that traffic would be light while everyone was at The Game.

There were a few stars at this year's show that you should know about. As always, Knight Family Honey was around with their amazing honey that comes from (so they told me) a pumpkin field surrounded by an alfalfa field. Okay, so it's not chocolate, but I don't mind. it's fresh, it's raw, and it's darned tasty. Keep in mind, this is coming from somebody that usually doesn't care for honey or its bitter aftertaste. This year they also had honey taffy which was decent, but tasted nothing like honey to me. Still, I liked it and have been snacking on it all day. I have a jar of honey from them too, and I may break that out for a baklava or something.

Tony Caputo's had a booth again this year, and I was glad for it. I'd wondered if Matt Caputo would recognize me, since I haven't really seen him since last year's show, but the moment he saw me he greeted me by name, and asked how things were. He was a bit busy helping other customers, and other employees would often stop by and ask me if I needed help when Matt would have to step away. It was a lot like being in their store, except that they only had their chocolate inventory with them. I was happy to see that they still carry chocolates by Chris Blue over at Chocolatier Blue. I didn't think you could still get that in Utah, since Chris left Utah earlier this year to move to Berkeley and start supplying the French Laundry, in addition to Charlie Trotter's and Chez Panisse. Even if Caputo's didn't have the largest chocolate selection in Utah, I would still stop by there just for Chocolatier Blue.

One of the new stars at the show was a company called Choffy. A few months ago I heard about a company taking coffee beans and treating them like chocolate, going so far as to sell a bar of coffee beans, sugar and cocoa butter. Choffy goes in the other direction. They take the cocoa beans and roast them, grind them and brew them as if they were coffee beans. Personally, I've never liked coffee. I've always thought it tasted and smelled like burned chocolate. That being the case, and considering that people actually like that flavor, I thought it might be a perfect product. At Matt Caputo's urging, I headed over to try some out.

They had three different varieties there. From darkest to lightest, they were Nicaraguan, Ivory Coast, and Ecuadorian. I tried all three, in that order. The Nicaraguan was way too much for me, which didn't surprise the sales rep because I'd told him I wasn't a coffee drinker. Even with cream, I didn't like it. Some sugar might have helped, but by that point I wasn't really interested. Ivory Coast was in the middle, and the show favorite. In fact, by the time I got to the booth, they had some brewed, but none left to sell. This one was drinkable, even without the cream. Still, it wasn't my thing. I decided to try lighter still.

I was surprised at how much I liked the Ecuadorian, until I found out that's what it was. I have always liked beans from there, so it's no surprise that I would like them brewed like this too. It was excellent on its own, but when I added a vanilla-flavored creamer, it got even better. I almost shelled out for a bag right then and there, but I decided to wait a couple of paychecks. Besides, I have no coffee equipment, so that would have been an issue too. Unfortunately, you can't buy their product in stores. They've apparently decided to go with some crappy MLM-like marketing scheme, which would normally mean that I wouldn't buy their product on principle. But you can order it online, so I might break down at some point at pick it up. But if they allowed Caputo's to sell it, I would be even more likely to buy it.

Last of all, Ruth Kendrick, author of the famous Candymaking book by HP Books, made her yearly appearance at the show. As expected, she was teaching a class, this time on tempering chocolate. But this year yielded an unexpected surprise for many fans of hers. Early this year, Ruth took off to the Great White North to take some classes at the Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Montreal. She has taken her years of experience and combined it with her newfound knowledge and formed her own chocolate company, Chocolot, which debuted at this year's show.

While Ruth does sell toffee and candied popcorn, her real jems are her truffles, which represent her entry into the truly high-end world of chocolates. They're as pretty as they are tasty, and are sure to impress. Remember how I said I don't normally like honey? Ruth's chocolates are another exception to the rule. My favorite flavor may very well be the beehive honey. I tried one of the chai teas, and it was also excellent: flavorful, but not overpowering. Also on my favorites list are strawverry sabe, australian ginger and rootbeer float.

Be aware that Ruth is very small-batch, and has limits as to where she can ship (anything out of the state is pretty much out of the question). If you happen to live in Utah or know somebody that does and doesn't mind shipping to you, you need to give her a shout. Her truffles are a little pricey, but the quality is excellent.

I'm a little sad that I was only able to stick around for a few hours this year, but I'm glad that I got at least that. As always, the show was a delight, and I can't wait for next year's. Here's hoping it gets a little more advertising the next time around.

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