The first Seattle Luxury Chocolate Salon was a resounding success! 20+ chocolate artisans showed up to offer samples and talk about their work. For only a $20 entrance fee and unlimited tasting, this was a fantastic bargain for anyone who lusts for cacao.
This year’s event was made slightly surreal by the sight of an enormous cruise ship docked right outside the the Bell Harbor Conference Center, filling the view out the salong windows. Apparently the ship caused a short circuit in the building, which in turn lost air conditioning. Some of the chocolatiers said the warmth was affecting the "snap" of their chocolates, but I have to say it wasn’t a big deal. Definitely an application of Murphy’s law!
I had the awesome responsibility of being a judge for the event, which was sponsored by TasteTV. I spent a couple of hours wandering from booth to booth, gorging, being awed by both the natural flavors of chocolate and the amazing confections built on top of them. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Amano Chocolates really demonstrated the principle of terroir. Their Ocumare Grand Cru and Cuyagua Premium are from adjacent valleys in Venezuela, yet taste completely different.
- Kekau Chocolatier, out of Eugene, Oregon, makes truffles in both very traditional and quite extreme flavors. The Black Truffle Honey, with juniper and rosemary was spectacular. I was a little scared of the Smoky Blue, with Rogue River smoky blue cheese and chipotle, but I have to admit it worked!
- Local favorite Theo showed beautifully with both their single origin bars, and their 3400 Phinney line of flavored bars. My new favorite is the Fig, Fennel, and Almond Dark Chocolate.
- Poco Dolce, out of San Francisco, makes this great line of "tiles", which are little stacked squares of chocolate in a box. You can sometimes find them at Whole Foods. Try the Burnt Caramel, and I dare you not to eat them in one sitting.
- Claudio Corallo is an agronomist who makes some of the most ideological chocolate you will ever find. The heirloom varieties of chocolate are beyond Fair Trade. Everything is grown sustainably and with biodynamic principles. He’s working with local growers to revive abandoned plantations for future generations. The chocolates are not conched, so they have somewhat of a gritty texture. (Some of the Blanxart bars you find in good stores have a similar quality). No flavors, not even vanilla is added, nor are any emulsifiers. I’m not going to say I exactly loved the experience on a pure palate level, but it is educational and fascinating and I’d try it again.
- Last but not least, I was thoroughly impressed with the offerings from Guittard. I love all of the new micro-boutique chocolate artisans out there, but we shouldn’t forget the old-school gangsters. Guittard has been doing it right since 1868, and they have clearly learned a few things along the way. I found that their single origin bars had extremely clear flavors on the palate, and the 91% Nocturne bar was amazingly smooth for a product with no added cocoa butter. I also loved Quetzlcoatl bar, and of course they offer a complete line of baking chocolates and cocoa powder.