Fancy That, It’s the 2009 Fancy Food Show

At the Fancy Food Show, virtually everything you’ve ever seen on the grocery store shelf is yours for the taking, plus unreleased products and the rarest foods: jamón Ibérico (the porcine equivalent of Kobe beef), fresh mangosteens, black garlic (I don’t know what the big deal is: it tastes like salted prunes) and crudo from David Burke Townhouse.

When I was young (relatively speaking; I’m 27), I tried hundreds of samples and had the clarity of mind to describe almost everything I ate. Clearly I’ve abused my tastebuds; this year, I got palate fatigue at sample #2. But this is what I do to in the name of research.

The Chocolate (this is what we’re here for, after all)

Amano, Domori, Valrhona and Pralus were at the top of my list in years past, and I don’t see anyone replacing them any time soon. But here’s some more standouts.

Better Than Nutella

Pralus chocolate-hazelnut spread

Chocolate-hazelnut spread is my favorite condiment, and I sought out ones that were better than Nutella and my homemade version. A half dozen of them were too sweet, resembled a ball of shortening or were just underwhelming.

The winner by far was Pralus. The deep, toasted hazelnut flavor could only be matched by their exquisite chocolate. They also debuted two single-estate Venezuelan chocolates (Sorry I can’t remember the names. Blame it on the fatigue.). One tasted like raisins, and the other had soil notes that morphed into coffee. Amazing what a couple degrees in latitude can do to chocolate. The chocolate-hazelnut spread is available at Zingerman’s and Murray’s Cheese (Greenwich Village only). They run out quickly, but I think it’s worth checking back everyday. While you’re there, also pick up the Infernal Bar, a brick of chocolate-covered chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Sunland organic chocolate peanut butter

Coming in a close second is Marco Vacchieri from Italy. The poor man’s version is Sunland’s chocolate peanut butter (a paltry $5 for top quality stuff). Because it’s made with Valencia peanuts, which are naturally sweet, there’s very little added sugar.

Top Chocolate Bars

Pacari chocolate

I actually tried Pacari last year but didn’t include them in my roundup. I’m usually not fond of Ecuadorian chocolate because it tends to be neutral. Pacari, however, is strong and fruity. They also don’t use vanilla (only the bravest chocolate makers attempt this).

Claudio Corallo chocolate

It’s one thing for a chocolate maker to personally source his beans, but Claudio Corallo is the only one I know who actually grows them. When they’re harvested, they’re fermented for nine to 17 days (instead of the usual two to seven) and not conched. Conching makes chocolate smooth, but Corallo insists that it sacrifices flavor. As a result, his chocolate is among the most complex I’ve had.

chocolate ice cream

I’m going to break the rules and promote something that’s inaccessible to 99% of the population. For the best ice cream OF YOUR LIFE, you need to get a $4,000 Pacojet, 80% Claudio Corallo chocolate and a killer recipe or pastry chef. The Pacojet makes ice cream in reverse: instead of churning a liquid base, you start with a rock-hard frozen mass, and the blades shave it till it’s literally smoother than silk. It’s eons ahead of gelato and frozen custard. The machine’s been around for 20 years. Where have I been all this time?

Some practical applications: if you know of a restaurant with a Pacojet, run there as fast as you can. And only use the best ingredients in your ice cream recipes.

Askinosie white chocolate

White chocolate doesn’t hold the same value as the dark stuff (it’s not legally chocolate anyway), but I think it’s because most people haven’t tasted good white chocolate.

Most white chocolate is made from deodorized cocoa butter, which gives the bar its characteristic paleness. Deodorizing masks inferior cacao, but you also lose subtle flavors. Even if you find white chocolate without any vegetable fat (avoid “white coating” and palm kernel oil), most likely you’re only tasting the milk and vanilla.

El Rey Icoa is made from non-deodorized cocoa butter, and it shows in the flavor. Coming in second place is Askinosie (read my review of their 70% chocolate). It’s the least sweet white chocolate I’ve had, and the goat’s milk adds a mellow note. The San Jose del Tambo with cocoa nibs is a winning combination: sweet and bitter.

Honorable Mentions

Madecasse Malagasy chocolate

Madécasse’s (aka Malagasy) entire chocolate-making process, from growing to packaging, is done in Madagascar to benefit the locals. The chocolate has a long finish and is favored by pastry chef Pichet Ong.

Ezcazu chocolate

Escazú, of Raleigh, N.C., debuted two years ago and shows promise as another small-batch chocolate maker. I’m fond of the 60% dark chocolate with goat’s milk. It has a sharp flavor, and the goat’s milk doesn’t taste like hay (in lesser brands it does, though).

Coming up in part two: everything else.

Related links:
Dispatches from the previous years’ Fancy Food Shows
How to judge cacao by its origin, and why it matters
Chocolate Show coverage

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9 Comments »

  1. Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes) said,

    Better than Nutella?? Not possible!!!! Lol. You are one lucky person, to go to this show!!

    July 4, 2009 at 3:09 am

  2. Jen of a2eatwrite said,

    It’s interesting to get your perspective on these products. Zingerman’s is just a few minutes from where I live (I just had breakfast there this morning), and they do carry most of the things you talked about. I don’t think their creamery has a pacojet, sadly. I also don’t think they carry the Pacari products, although they do carry the other things, I believe. (Except the Sunland chocolate peanut butter). The problem, too, is the pricing. Sigh. This must have been great fun, palate fatigue or no.

    July 4, 2009 at 11:19 am

  3. Virtual Frolic said,

    Hey Jessica – hope you’re doing well. I got to go to the Fancy Food Show for the first time this year – and would you believe it – I missed the whole bottom floor – AGH! I think that’s where a lot of the people you list above were :( ah well, there’s always next year :) BTW, did you get a chance to try the small ice pops the oil company Le Tourangelle had made with Hazelnut Oil? They were so good – I had to go back for another one.

    July 7, 2009 at 6:20 pm

  4. Jessica "Su Good Sweets" said,

    Avanika, the world is full of “better than Nutella”s. :-)

    Jen, I’ve always wanted to go to Zingerman’s. Have been eying their chocolate-cherry bread for some time. The Pacojet is so amazing that I’m surprised a Pacojet creamery doesn’t exist yet. Yes, Pralus and Claudio Corallo are pricey but worth it. You can always request them as a gift…

    Yoko, welcome to the world of Fancy Food! Yeah, the bottom level is mainly U.S. companies. But hey, you met Dorie Greenspan! I saw the hazelnut oil but they ran out of the ice pops when I got there. I heard that Chikalicious Dessert Club has a Pacojet, but their ice cream (while good) is nowhere near the Claudio Corallo.

    July 8, 2009 at 2:59 pm

  5. niko said,

    I had the pleasure of tasting the creme de noisette with the author and I have to say that it WAS all that. The richness of the flavor as she says makes the product. The infernal bar was incredible as well. I am guilty of encouraging the tastings of as many cheeses as possible and for that I am sorry!

    July 9, 2009 at 4:00 pm

  6. Eliana said,

    I’m so upset that I didn’t get to go to this show. I had registered months ago but had a family event come up that weekend so I had to cancel. Looking forward to reading more about what you discovered at the show.

    July 10, 2009 at 3:49 pm

  7. Jessica "Su Good Sweets" said,

    Niko, what is there to be sorry about? If it weren’t for you, I would have had a sugar coma.

    Eliana, that’s too bad you had to bow out of the show last minute. I believe there’s a restaurant show in the fall. Here’s a list of trade shows in the NY area: http://www.biztradeshows.com/usa/newyork/

    July 12, 2009 at 9:15 pm

  8. zoe said,

    I can’t imagine anything better than nutella, but I’ll take your word for it. I gotta go find some Pralus!

    July 17, 2009 at 12:06 pm

  9. ayane said,

    you’re right about the pacojet. the restaurant i’m working in has one and we use it all the time for our sorbets and ice creams. i reckon if i move to another place without it, i’ll just die. HAHA. it saves a lot of time, and i honestly don’t think you get the same texture with churning the ice cream before hand and then freezing. : )

    October 15, 2009 at 2:37 pm

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