Posts Tagged ‘Easter Chocolate’

Savoring the Flavors of Easter

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

— Joan Vieweger, Co-Founder of Choclatique

This Sunday, April 4th, is Easter Sunday. Beyond the religious significance to the faithful, Easter has become one of the candy and chocolate industries’ biggest holidays. From jelly beans and marshmallow chicks to foil-wrapped chocolate eggs and hollow bunnies, Easter gives kids of all ages an excuse to indulge a little. Perhaps it’s the effect of the particularly long, cold, wet and snowy winter, but the fact that the holiday arrives ten days earlier than last year hasn’t dampened expectations for a banner year in sales. The National Retail Foundation reports that total Easter spending is expected to reach over $13 billion! Of course that total includes food, flowers, decorations, greeting cards, clothing and yes, candy and chocolate.

Drug StoreEaster was a major holiday in my childhood. I remember that my Great Uncle Tony, a pharmacist and proprietor of a local drug store (similar to the one shown), always brought me a taste of the newest seasonal candy when it came into the store. I wasn’t very discriminating back then—if it had sugar and/or milk chocolate, I was game.

Chocolate BunnyAs a young child an over-sized hollow bunny or extra large bag of jelly beans did the trick. But as I got a little older, nothing brought me the excitement as the newest seasonal chocolate assortment did. The ritual of removing the outer wrapper, sliding open the lid and breathing in the sweet aroma of chocolate… there was—and is—nothing like it. Were it not for my Granny interceding at just the right moment, I’m certain I could have polished off that one-pounder in no time flat. She helped me to appreciate those chocolate moments.

She allowed me to have just two in that first moment, so selection was critical. Not being a big fan of the coconut back then (I used to refer to it as eating hair), nor having yet acquired the appreciation for the richness of a solid piece of gourmet chocolate, I ultimately learned to look before I leaped.

There wasn’t much color used back then and the fillings and designs were very simple relative to today’s offerings, so I looked for the subtle differences in size, shape, the twist of the drizzle, the hint of a possible nut… all were clues to treasure inside. Even shaking the chocolate could even be rewarding if one was in pursuit of the elusive chocolate covered cherry. My favorite was the nutty caramel.

Choclatique ChicksI’m happy to say that I still have that childlike excitement whenever I open up a box of assorted truffles—whether ours or another artisans’. I still stop and take in with full measure the chocolate aroma when I open the box, and then I let my eyes dance from piece to piece to piece, struggling to decide which one to try first. Fortunately, I went from candy store kid to chocolate studio owner, so I don’t have to choose just one or two and I don’t have to wait for a holiday to enjoy our chocolates… neither do you. But there is still something special about savoring Easter memories of my Granny and Uncle Tony and those special boxes of chocolate.

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Fine Chocolate and Fancy Food

Monday, January 25th, 2010

— Joan Vieweger, Co-Founder of Choclatique

Twice a year the artisans and merchants of “fancy” foods gather in New York and San Francisco for the Summer and Winter Fancy Food Shows, sponsored by the NASFT—National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. Some 45,000 buyers walk aisle after aisle after aisle perusing, sniffing, nibbling and evaluating a mind-boggling 250,000 products from all around the world, including gourmet chocolates, handmade chocolate, chocolate truffles and fine chocolate.

Fancy Food Show

Just prior to the start of the Fancy Food Show, our own talented group of artisans gathers for our semi-annual meeting of the FCIA—Fine Chocolate Industry Association. It’s a fun and fascinating group that includes professionals from all around the country involved in chocolate from blossom to bean to bonbon and bar: growers/producers, chocolatiers, chocolate makers, pastry chefs, chocolate manufacturers, marketers, writers, educators and specialty retailers.

Chicks CollectionThe winter confluence of these groups took place January 16th-19th in San Francisco, so I grabbed my umbrella, trench coat and Wellies (have you seen our California weather lately?) and hit the road (or the airport and train station anyway).

Our FCIA program this year included a new feature called the Gallery Showcase in which members were given a small presentation space to “showcase” some of their latest and greatest or soon-to-be-released products. This was the first time that our fun and flavorful new Easter Chicks made their public debut. Chicks officially “hatch” on March 1st; they make wonderful chocolate gifts. Chicks make an excellent companion chocolate to our 24-karat gold Spring assortments.

Sticky Almond ChickThe aww-factor was pretty high as my fellow association members considered the amount of painstaking detail involved in creating these hand-made chocolates. Each Chick is carefully hand-painted (eyes, beak, face/body, shell top and bottom), then cast in Private Reserve Premium Dark Chocolate (64% cacao), creamy Prestige Milk Chocolate (32%) or Snowy White Chocolate (33%), and filled with layers of flavors including Bumble Berry, Cherries Jubilee, Orange Orchard, Sticky Almond and Sweet Sesame Seed Crunch, among others.

The educational portion of the evening focused on an informative—and surprisingly entertaining—panel discussion focusing on the mystery, myths and facts around the health benefits of chocolate. An impressive panel of scientists and experts were assembled to explore the topic. They included: David Stuart, Director Natural Product Sciences for The Hershey Company; Catherine Kwik-Uribe, PhD Research Scientist for Mars; Joan Steuer, President of Chocolate Marketing and Founding Editor of Chocolatier (now Dessert Professional); and Clay Gordon, Founder of The Chocolate Life (online community).

The scientists presented data from research studies suggesting that chocolate does in fact yield beneficial effects from consumption including improvement in blood flow within 20 minutes of consumption and a reduction in blood pressure with daily consumption of small amounts (more studies are underway to further validate these findings). Clay discussed the benefits associated with cocoa and chocolate’s exceedingly high ORAC values (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity, one of the primary methods for measuring and comparing antioxidant properties in foods), and Joan Steuer reminded us all that even if chocolate is ultimately determined to be a “health food” by any scientific standard, we should all remember the primary reason to consume is for the pure pleasure of the chocolate-eating experience.

The following day I put on my walking shoes and traversed over 180,000 square feet of exhibits at Moscone Center. Pure Power BarI must admit to being a little myopic, focusing on the wonderful world of gourmet chocolate and our wonderful supporting vendors (packaging and specialty ingredients), but I did “slow my roll” a bit around the dozens of cheese booths (hey, I grew up in Wisconsin and now live in California… there’s whey in my blood) I encountered, not to mention artisan sausages and charcuterie producers. Of course, the What’s New/What’s Hot section is not to be missed, either. Lots of “green” offerings this year, and gluten-free was all the rage… none quite as good our gluten-free PurePower Peanut Bars.

Every style of specialty food is represented in a demonstration of America’s seemingly unlimited entrepreneurial spirit that drives artisans of every style to “take the plunge” and bring their craft to market. It’s only too bad that they don’t add a day for the public, allowing the vast community of foodies to come through to “try and buy.” It would definitely be a finger-lickin’ win/win for all concerned!

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