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June 25, 2007

Review: Vosges Caramel Marshmallows

I’ve had my eye on the Caramel Marshmallows from Vosges Haut-Chocolat for a while now. I’m not sure when I first ran across them, but every time I did I wanted to try them just a little more. But I prefer not to order my chocolate online. I like to go out and buy it myself and, sadly, I haven’t been back to Chicago since I started the blog. So I just haven’t had an opportunity to try them yet. And then they came out with Mo’s Bacon Bar and I had a lot more reason to place an order with them. I was still torn due to the high cost of shipping chocolate in the summer, but I got an unexpected check in the mail and decided that I may as well use it on a little chocolate. And I couldn’t order something from Vosges without getting the marshmallows.

First things first: these are no ordinary marshmallows. You have a marshmallow (made with real vanilla) topped with caramel mixed with walnut and pecan bits, which is then coated in chocolate and topped with caramel toffee. Yep, they are anything but ordinary. The packaging is lovely (as is always the case with Vosges) with a nice outer wrap surrounding a silver-stamped box.

Yes, it has attractive packaging (which I always focus on for some reason), but it’s what’s inside that really matters, right? Well, inside that nice package are nine chunky caramel marshmallows, each about an inch tall and an inch and a half square. They’re not one-bite marshmallows, not by a long shot. The chocolate has a good solid snap and is thick enough to give the whole thing a nice structure. I don’t know what really to say about the taste. It’s definitely greater than the sum of its parts and everything plays really well together. I’ve certainly torn through the box pretty fast.

These are flat-out awesome and well worth the seemingly high price of $27. For somebody like me with the full trio of weaknesses for chocolate, marshmallow, and caramel it’s a fantastic and addictive treat. I’m giving it a solid 9.25 out of 10. I was planning on having my sister bring me a box of truffles when she comes back to town next month, but now I might have to have her bring these instead (or, more likely, in addition to).

But we’re not done! Returning to the packaging that I was so enamored with there is a little section on the top that reads as follows:

Sandwich 1 caramel marshmallow between 2 fresh potato chips and bite … bite 1 caramel marshmallow following a foamy sip of a Belgian wheat beer … place 1 caramel marshmallow on 2 strips of sizzling bacon, slice and savor.
No, you didn’t misread it. The first two seem so simple and reasonable (and tasty), but the third… that is maybe a little out there. But when I see a recommendation like that I can’t help but take it as a challenge.

So, for the second time in a week, Chocolate Obsession is venturing into the realm of smoked pork products. I didn’t want a whole package of bacon (I don’t cook meat much because it scares the rabbit) so I swung by Whole Foods on the way home and grabbed a few slices from the butcher counter and headed home to give it a shot.

I will not eat bacon without trying to swab off as much of the grease as possible with paper towels and I think it lost a bit of heat in the process because the caramel relaxed, but didn’t quite melt.

Not terribly melty. Hmm...

So I shoved it in the microwave for a couple of seconds and pulled it back out. Now we had some good meltage going on.


And the smell was fantastic. I love the smell of bacon and this added a little something extra to the whole thing. I was a trifle worried, but I cut in and took a bite. And it was good. Not something I’m going to eat every day for a number of reasons, but the sweet marshmallow and caramel and mellow chocolate go so well with the smoky bacon. I liked the Bacon Bar I tried a few nights ago, but this is a definite step above that and one heck of an indulgence.

June 22, 2007

Review: Vosges Bacon Bar

In the past after eating a chocolate bar I have found myself with fruit or nuts stuck in my teeth. It’s quite a different experience to come away with from chocolate with meat stuck in your teeth. Yes, I took the plunge and ordered myself one of Vosges Haut Chocolat’s new Mo’s Bacon Bar. To be honest I really had no idea what to expect. Would it be just a general smokiness with some salt along for the ride? Or would it be just straightforward in-your-face bacon?

The bar is made with applewood smoked bacon, alder wood smoked salt, and deep milk chocolate (41% cacao). You could swap any of a number of things for the bacon and I’d be totally on board. I have got to admit I wasn’t entirely sold on the bacon. But it wasn’t a horrifying concept so I figured I had to give it a try.

The first thing I do with any chocolate is to pop it open and just smell it the way it is before breaking it to release a little more of the aroma. From the first whiff of this bar there was absolutely no way for me to mistake it for anything but bacon. Breaking the bar just released more bacon aroma. There is a nice milk chocolate aroma hiding behind the bacon smell, but the bacon definitely hogs the spotlight aroma-wise.

And then it was time for the moment of truth: tasting it. The first thing you notice is a general smokiness through the whole thing. And then you get the nice crunch and bite of the salt. And, in direct opposition to the aroma, the bacon kind of lurks in the background. It’s stronger than the chocolate, but takes a back seat to the smoke and salt. After smelling the bar I was kind of expecting some sort of explosion of pork flavor and it turned out to be just a general undercurrent to the flavor.

So, we’ve reached that part of the review where I sort of sum things up and assign a score. I’ve been trying to decide what to do with this for a couple of days now because I just don’t know entirely what to say about it. The bottom line is this: it’s good. It really is good. They have taken salt, bacon, and chocolate and combined them and the result is really quite good. This is an impressive feat. At the same time, this is one of those bars that I’m not going to be snapping into on a weekly basis. I’m going to call it an even 8 out of 10. It’s good and I’d happily eat it again. Just not on a weekly basis.

Coming up: how could I place an order with Vosges and only get the bacon bar? That’s right, I couldn’t. I’ve been seeing their caramel marshmallows in my email for months now and since I needed to get my bacon on I figured I’d go ahead and order some marshmallows while I was at it. And, because of one of their recommendations, I’m probably not done with the bacon either.

June 13, 2007

Review: Nestlé Crunch Crisp

I had to go to the grocery yesterday to look just in case there was a slip up and the Elvis Reese's Cups had made their appearance early (it's happened before) and while I did not find the prize I was after I did leave with a Nestlé Crunch Crisp bar which promises crispy wafers and chocolate crème. I figured it was new, I wanted chocolate (when do I not?), why not give it a shot? So it went back to work with me for an after-lunch snack (and, as I had no camera with me, I was unable to take a picture of it to share).

I hate to harp on ingredients, but I don't know if there is anything here that qualifies as chocolate. There is sugar, oil, cocoa, milk, lecithin, and fake vanilla, but no cocoa butter. Just lots of oil. A regular Crunch lists milk chocolate as it's number one ingredient (and includes cocoa butter in the sub-ingredients). But no chocolate on this label. Don't know what to make of that. Moving on.

The bar, in theory, is the horrific love child of a Nestlé Crunch and Kit Kat. In structure we have rice crispies on top of wafers layered with chocolate crème. It smells moderately chocolaty in the sweet candy bar kind of way. Kind of like a Kit Kat. It smells chocolaty, but not like chocolate. Texture wise it is all crunch all the time with this bar. The crunch is nicely satisfying, but the taste isn't anything amazing. It's not bad, mind you; it's just not as good as I had hoped. It doesn't have any real chocolate kick to it, just sort of a vague chocolate flavor.

Bottom line? Not bad, but I'll take a regular Kit Kat or Crunch bar over this just about any day. I'll call it a 5 out of 10. The catch is that while it's all new and exciting they've got them on sale for a quarter a pop at Kroger (don't know if this carries over to all of the other million and a half grocery chains that Kroger owns - Ralph’s, Fry’s, Smith’s, Fred Meyer, etc.- or if the "Plus Card" that we Krogerites are saddled with was required or not). At $.67 I'm not about to go buying another one any time soon. At $.25.... well, that's a price point I might roll over for.

June 9, 2007

Review: Amano Artisan Chocolate

A lot of things got lost in the shuffle of moving and tonight I’m finally getting around to addressing a pair of them. A while back I got an email from Art Pollard of Amano Artisan Chocolate (followed shortly by the samples I'm reviewing). In it he described how things were falling into place for them and the entire thing impressed me to no end. Amano is one of a small group chocolate companies in the US that make their own chocolate from bean to bar. Normally that would be enough to set them apart from the crowd, but they go that special one step further. They are doing things the old fashioned way with vintage equipment and processes and that speaks volumes to me. There are simpler and cheaper ways to do things but Amano are taking no shortcuts with their chocolate. And it shows in the end product.

Amano currently offers two varieties: Ocumare and Madagascar, both at 70% minimum cacao content. They both have a good temper and a nice snap to them and come in a small, attractive box and a layer of gold foil wrap. Both are nicely smooth (though the Ocumare isn’t quite as smooth as the Madagascar). When it comes to flavor, though, you have two very different bars.

The Madagascar has a slightly fruity and slightly smoky aroma but nothing specific is standing out to my untrained nose. The taste starts with the expected light smoke and gives way to a strong fruity note. It immediately brought berries, raisins, and some sort of citrus to mind. There is some apple in there as well, I think. It makes me think of preserves of some sort, but not overly sweet. The fruit carries through the long lasting close and is joined, interestingly enough, by a hint of anise/licorice flavor (though this may just be me).

The Ocumare has a stronger aroma with a good bit of forest and leather in it and just a hint of cherry. The flavor opens with a good solid chocolate and some of the leather from the aroma. There’s something else strong and dark in there that I can’t put a name to. The initial flavors give way to soft floral hints floating over a ménage of mellow fruit flavors I’m calling black cherry, plum, and possibly dried strawberries. It isn’t a really intense fruit flavor, but a nice companion to the base chocolate flavor. The close is interesting. A lot of the fruit fades to the background bringing out the floral notes.

It’s a really impressive start. In their first offering they have managed to bring to market two world-class bars. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future holds for them. Both bars get a 9.5 and a spot on my short list. You can get Amano from their own website or from Chocosphere.

One final thing: Joseph Hall took the Ocumare and made ice cream with it! And it sounds excellent.

June 4, 2007

Chocolate Safari May 2007

It’s a good time to be a chocolate fan. One of the best things about chocolate is the near infinite variety of products that exist and right now new products are coming out at an amazing rate. One of my favorite things to do is to go out looking for new chocolate that I’ve never seen or tried before and my favorite place to go looking is Jungle Jim’s - an enormous international market north of Cincinnati. Among all of the amazing products they have a pretty substantial array of candy and chocolate and make the long drive worth it.

We got cut loose from work early the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and, anticipating that we would be, I had packed a change of clothes so I could make a run down to the Jungle. I wanted some new hot sauces, some good spicy potato chips, and a little Dublin Dr. Pepper but what I was really after was the chocolate (of course). Their selection is big enough and changes often enough that I could probably eat a bar a day and it would take more than a year to get through it all (hmmm…. that sounds like a challenge – 365 days, 365 bars – or is that a little overboard). Each time I head down I like to get a few items that I’ve never tried before so over time I get a broad sampling of all of the different brands available. Of course I also grab a couple of my old favorites while I’m there (some things are just too good to pass up).

This time around I decided it was time to give Lindt a fair shake. I’ve got mixed feelings about their Lindor Truffles, but I’ve always enjoyed their solid bars and it had been a while since I had bought one. I’ve actually been looking for the 99% Excellence bar for a while and not buying any of their other bars because they weren’t the ones I was looking for. I’m not entirely sure I would actually like the 99% bar (it’s a scary concept), but I’ve really wanted to try it just so I can see what it’s like. Well, they didn’t have the 99%, but they did have a couple of other bars that caught my eye. It had never really registered with me that they made any single origin bars, but there on the shelf was an Excellence Ecuador bar and as I was moving it to the cart I noticed the other Lindt bar I bought: the Intense Pear bar. Dark chocolate with pieces of pear and almonds? Ooh, I love dried pears with a passion, almonds are lovely, and I have a passing fondness for chocolate as well. I wasn’t intending to buy two bars from them, but I just couldn’t help myself. It sounded too good to pass up.

Next up I grabbed a bar from Charles Chocolates, a California chocolatier whose products I had seen and come close to buying before. This was their lucky day because I was really in the mood for a little fruit with my chocolate. I saw their Hazelnut and Candied Orange Peel bar and that, like the pears, suited my mood. Plus, as I said, I had come close to trying them before, but had never taken one of their bars home.

Unlike Charles Chocolate, I have tried Chuao before. I had their Spicy Maya Hot Chocolate during the extended Hot Chocolate Week this past winter and I also tried one of their Chinita Nibs bars (which was strong but good) on the sly. I’ve been impressed with them so far and was planning on trying another of their bars and the Caracas Bar with its hazelnuts, pistachios and almonds really sounded quite good. I went for the dark chocolate variety, of course.

Next I grabbed a Ritter Sport Cornflakes bar. This is one of my all time favorite bars of chocolate. It’s not high-end tasting chocolate, but it’s a good satisfying and tasty eating chocolate that offers that little diversion from all of the crispy rice bars out there. And while I was grabbing my cornflake fix I figured I’d try another of their bars and grabbed the Dark Chocolate á la Mousse au Chocolat (which I think is the same as the Feinherb á la Mousse au Chocolat which Cybele tried this past June). Ritter hasn’t let me down yet (probably because I refuse to touch their Yogurt bar) so I’m looking forward to this (and have already cracked open the Cornflakes bar).

Last, we have the humble Valomilk. It always sounds good and usually sounds better than it turns out to be. I don’t know why, but I need one about once a year but if I go over that each one gets progressively more disappointing. I keep my intake down by only buying at Jungle Jim’s rather than my local source which is just as well because I’ve only gotten one non-smooshed Valomilk locally.

I kind of breezed through most of the international sections pretty quickly because I was in a hurry to get home to feed the rabbit (I don’t like to keep Her Ladyship waiting), and as a result didn’t pick up anything else. I kind of wanted to get one of the Kit Kat Editions Golden Caramel that I had tried before and compare it to the US Kit Kat Caramel to see if there is any difference between the two, but forgot to grab either of them. I had also planned on grabbing some Pocky, but I was headed for the registers before I remembered it and didn’t want to go back.

The ride back was entertaining thanks to the constant presence of the Highway Patrol (they weren’t fooling around on Friday) but in all the fun I didn’t think and just tossed everything in the back of the car where it got some nice sun on the way back. A couple of items felt a little soft when I got home, but don’t seem to be too bad off. But the best part of the trip is that it was just a warm up for a bigger trip in August when I head back down to Jungle Jim’s for the Weekend of Fire (and more chocolate).