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    • I attended the San Francisco Chocolate Salon to document the stories of chocolatiers last Sunday. The exhibitors were delightful and happy to share their love of chocolate through samples and stories.

      Every single exhibitor I talked to loved their work. For most, baking, selling, and sourcing the sweets was their full time profession. The others were supporting spouses, parents, and friends or attempting to go full time with a chocolate business. It was an atmosphere of intense passion.

      I'd like to share some of their stories with you all here.

      📷: A beautiful batch of toffee given to me by Joel from R&J Toffees.

    • According to the ticket collectors at the entrance, the founder of the SF Chocolate Salon wanted to replicate his experience with French chocolate salons here in the US.

      The San Francisco Hall of Flowers was packed with excited foodies willing to wait in long lines for a few delicious treats. Exhibitors were selling out of product. Some were even rushing to their kitchens to grab more samples. Everything I tasted was incredible.

    • A few years ago, Chris and Jen tried making Chocolate for their very first time on a rainy, Sonoma day. Selling their incredible single-origin dark chocolate quickly become their livelihood. The small chocolate business they created, Rainy Day Chocolate, was their escape from corporate routine. Most touching, Chris and Jen’s relationship blossomed through their transition. They were extremely excited to share that they’re now engaged, and getting married up in their home county in a couple months.

      📷: Chris and Jen showing off a piece of their award winning 69% Dark Belgian Bar.

    • They were embarrassed that their half-empty table was so short on chocolates near the end of the day. After tasting their samples, I knew why 🤩

    • A kind chef from the International Culinary Institute showed me how edible formations can be sculpted with just chocolate. It involves heating chocolate to the perfect temperature and extreme hand dexterity. Has anyone done this? I want to try, but I’m not a great chef. Wondering if it’s worth shot.

    • I told her about Cake and she told me more about chocolate. We laughed about how the organizations we work for are so entirely different, but that our Cake and her chocolate brought us together. Coincidentally she owns a business that bakes literal cakes. We’re pretty passionate here about Cake, but the prominent tattoo on her arm shows us her dedication for real cakes. @Chris, if you’re interested in your own after seeing so many beautiful tattoos, here’s inspiration for your first.

    • Other participants were eagerly waiting to meet this humble chef, Stephany Buswell. I asked why, and her coworkers told me she’s a TV star! She was a competitor on Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship. Our conversation was fascinating and her art was amazing, so I can see why Food Network picked her.

      📷: Food Network’s photo of Stephany during the show.

    • Indeed! I learned at lot too.

      Everyone was talking about single-origin chocolate. I wondered what the craze was about. Isn’t chocolate just chocolate? I had never heard single-origin used in the same sentence as chocolate. Through samples and explanation, the chocolate artisans quickly taught me why single-origin beans are so important for great taste.

      My vocabulary grew. They taught that terroir is the environment where the bean is produced. Terroir determines the taste profile. Factors like climate, soil, and landscape all play a role in a bean’s terroir. Terroir is most commonly used to describe grapes of wine, but applies to chocolate, coffee, even cheese. 

      The wonderful folks at Valdivian Chocolates let me taste the wooden aromas and hints of citrus fruits of a bar from a single plantation in the Manabi province of Ecuador. Then we compared that to a bar from the Orellana province of Ecuador. Hints of almond and guava were present in that one. That tastes were so vastly different even though they came from the country.

      Apologies foodies for lacking a basic understanding of terroir and single origin 🙈

    • I didn’t expect I’d be tasting balsamic vinegar at a chocolate festival; however, Gourmet Blends surprised me. I think of balsamic vinegar as basic, common cooking ingredient. 

      How much variation can there be in balsamic vinegars? A lot.

      I was skeptical. I first tasted their black cherry balsamic. It was so flavorful. The taste of black cherry was very present, but not overwhelming. There were no hints that it came from bland, mass produced extracts (which it did not). You could taste real cherries with an acidic, balsamic punch. It was so good I could picture drizzling it over ice cream — a mixture of ingredients I’ve never thought of before.

      So, what brought Gourmet Blends to the Chocolate Salon? A dark chocolate balsamic vinegar!!! It was so weirdly good. This was not for the faint of heart. It’s for the true chocolate lover. There was a subtle taste of a bitterly dark chocolate in an aromatic aged vinegar. So yummy! It immediately put a smile on my face, like other chocolate lovers tasting that epic variation in the photo below. 

      Then I tasted blueberry, coconut, and raspberry balsamics. The experience was enjoyable. It felt as if I was wine tasting, but more interesting because the flavors varied so widely.

      At the end of tasting, my favorite was still their chocolate balsamic vinegar!

    • The Good Chocolate was superb. A humble name for an amazing product. 

      Their sugar-free chocolate is sweet, dark and amazing. Erythritol is the bread and butter of their brand. It’s a sweetener they use in their chocolate that really does mimic sugar.

      I loved their Signature Chocolate. 65% dark chocolate. Zero sugar, carb free and super low in calories compared to similar dark chocolates. IMHO, the real sugar dark chocolates I tasted that day were a bit more delicious. But considering the benefits of tooth decay prevention and low carbs, it was incredible.

      Below is the founder, proud of the brand he built and the sweet tastes you expect of chocolate bars that he so meticulously preserved.

    • Dan from the Cowboy Toffee Company came from the heart of Texas for show off his Ghost Town Toffee. Its intense ghost pepper spice hits like a bullet in the wild west. You wonder what you were thinking when you agreed to try that. But that butterly sweet toffee under the dusted ghost peppers was delicious. It's sweetened with pure cane sugar. To me it was like sipping a mexicoke: that authentic and organic tasting cane sugar mixed with a thick layer of chocolate made it so worth it, thought I also wish I had some beer in the moment to supplement the pain.