Hi everyone, welcome back to the Blind Taste Test: winner of the 2011 CBS Most Valuable Blogger Award! Thanks so much for reading and for voting for me, it really means a great deal to me and I appreciate all of your support.
Ah, chocolate! What can I say about this marvelous creation that has not been said before? (That’s rhetorical, don’t all answer at once) First, it’s probably my favorite food, and yes: it is a food! If you have read this blog before, then you are probably aware that my preference is dark chocolate, but this week I was feeling very adventurous. Thanks to the 21st century communication platform better known as Twitter, I was able to arrange a private chocolate tasting at Vosges (pronounced Voge).
I found the following description of Vosges from their website, which is
“Vosges’ collections of chocolates have great, worldly inspirations… their truffles have exotic influences of an “East meets West” theme. The infusions of rare spices and flowers combined with premium chocolate give a delicate balance of flavor, leaving you with a layered and lingering sensation of spice and chocolate.” It should be noted that Vosges makes a variety of products, many of which do not use spices at all, so if you are as selective as I am then you will not have a problem finding your favorite chocolate.
I tasted quite a few different chocolate treats, ranging from bars to truffles to snacks and even one of the best beverages I have ever tried. Just to give you an idea of how cool this was, at one point I was sitting at a table in the middle of the Vosges store and lined up in front of me were a cornucopia of chocolates on a plate lined up from left to right, ranked in order from white chocolate to the most intense dark chocolate! I would like to thank Jaime, the assistant manager of the store who was extremely nice and turned out to be a very knowledgeable foodie. I also want to thank Maggie who expertly led the tasting and granted me sample after sample of Vosges’ products (even ones which were not on the initial tasting plate). The entire time spent at Vosges was transporting and despite the hundreds or thousands of calories that I consumed, this was one of the best experiences of my life.
I figured that the best way to describe my tasting would be to rank each chocolate from best to worst, however even the “worst” exceeded my expectation:
1. Caramel Marshmallow (fluffy marshmallow + burnt sugar caramel + grey sea salt + dark chocolate + pecan & walnut crumble) This Vosges treat was an extraordinary creation and after Maggie described it to me in detail I had a feeling that my sweet tooth was going to be completely satisfied. (Side note: shouldn’t that be sweet teeth not sweet tooth?) Each ingredient was wonderful and there were no components which conflicted with my picky/selective nature. This masterpiece was perfect from the first bite: first I tasted the intense but excellent dark chocolate, followed by the flavor from the burnt sugar caramel, a hint of salt, and in the middle was the most fluffy homemade marshmallow! To top it off, the outer layer was composed of walnut and pecan crumbs for the crunch factor. I found it extremely difficult to rank all of these chocolates and to pick a favorite; however, my choice is the caramel marshmallow.
2. Mocha made with Parisienne Couture Cocoa and Blue Bottle espresso: While I was waiting for the taste test to begin, Jaime offered me some coffee. I told her about my favorite caffeinated beverage: the mocha latte. She returned shortly with a mind blowing creation: First she started by making a cup of Vosges Parisienne Couture Cocoa which has a 65% cacao content with a blend of dark chocolate shavings, vanilla beans and cocoa powder. This was one of the best cocoas I have tried and I have tasted quite a few, the aroma of chocolate was strong yet pleasant and the flavor was smooth and rich without being overwhelming. As if this was not good enough, Jaime added a shot of Blue Bottle espresso. Blue Bottle is a new and small coffee company started in Oakland but which is now being sold in New York City; they promise to only sell coffee less than 48 hours out of the roaster so that their customers may enjoy coffee at its peak of flavor. I don’t claim to be an expert in this area, but I must say that the espresso in my cocoa was outstanding and I am now a Blue Bottle fan. My mocha latte was a true highlight of my Vosges experience and I would encourage all of you to try their Parisienne Couture Cocoa. (Note: the only reason I didn’t rank this number one is that I did not taste the cocoa by itself; it was the combination of cocoa and espresso that was so magical but I was extremely impressed by the Vosges version of a mocha latte.)
3. Mo’s Milk Bar (deep milk chocolate + hickory smoked, uncured Nueske bacon + Alderwood smoked salt) There are inevitably times in life when elements or ingredients that you never think would go together are put to the test and are combined. In this case, I am the kind of person who was excited to try this creation: I am fond of bacon and I love chocolate so what is the big deal? Seriously, I understood that these flavors had the potential to be very good or very bad when paired together, but fortunately Vosges made it work. Each bite contained an unusually deep milk chocolate with tiny bits of crispy bacon with a hint of salt. (I would like to note that when salt is used in chocolate, at least in the samples I tasted, it accentuates the flavor instead of overwhelming the chocolate and it is of a much higher quality than most other salt). Bottom line: If you like chocolate and bacon, you will really like Mo’s Milk Bar.
4. Blush Caramel (Vosges caramel + Hawaiian red salt + milk chocolate + li hing powder) Generally I think that caramels are fine, I like most of them but won’t necessarily go out of my way to buy one. (Although chocolate covered caramels are a different story and they are more enticing to me.) The element that sets this caramel apart from many others is the addition of li hing powder; something which I had never heard of before. This powder comes from Hawaii and it lends the caramel a refreshing tartness. Naturally, all of the other ingredients in this treat are of the highest quality including the unique Hawaiian red salt; it’s hard to describe but this variety of salt is a little sharper and cleaner then regular table or sea salt. Overall, the blush caramel was one of the best products I tasted and there are several other flavors of caramel to try!
5. The Rooster Truffle (Taleggio cheese + organic walnuts + Tahitian vanilla bean + bittersweet dark chocolate) This was an excellent truffle from the Vosges Italian collection and it was even shaped like a wine bottle! Maggie told me to eat the truffle in three bites which helps to separate the flavors; this was a smart piece of advice but I still was blown away how these distinct ingredients produced a singular taste. I never thought that cheese could be used in a truffle but I was proven wrong and this unique creation was one of my most memorable tastes.
6. Creole Bar (New Orleans style chicory coffee + cocoa nibs + Sao Thome 70% chocolate) I knew that I would really like this bar: New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, I consumed a great amount of caffeine during the last year while pursuing my master’s degree in social work, and obviously the Creole bar uses dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa. I wasn’t shocked to learn how great this selection is but I still marveled at its excellence: after biting into it, I first tasted the outstanding intensity of the 70% dark chocolate, followed by the crunch of cocoa nibs and the background notes of high quality coffee. This one is a winner, especially if you are like me and like all of the ingredients involved.
7. Enchanted Mushroom Bar (organic 66% dark chocolate + reishi mushrooms + organic walnuts) This sample was not part of the regular tasting but resulted from my logical question: what do mushrooms in a chocolate bar taste like? Maggie said that Vosges uses more of a mushroom powder which not only has a more subtle taste but also a greater amount of health benefits as compared to regular mushrooms. I really liked the intensity of the dark chocolate in this bar along with the added crunch of the walnuts, the mushroom flavor was there but it was very light. This bar is one of only a few that is organic; it seems as if it is more difficult to grow organic cocoa so companies like Vosges do not produce as many organic products. I would have enjoyed this sample even if it wasn’t organic.
8. Bapchi’s Caramel Toffee (roasted pecans & walnuts + sweet butter toffee + pink Himalayan sea salt + milk chocolate) Fun fact: Apparently bapchi means grandmother and this recipe came from the owner’s grandmother. You might think that the combination of these ingredients was guaranteed to produce a winning product and you would be absolutely correct. The differing textures and flavors really put it over the top: crispy, chewy, sweet, and of course salty. This was one of my favorites and I recommend it if you enjoy toffee, but I tasted so many chocolates that it was lost in the shuffle.
9. Siam Truffle (white chocolate + lemongrass + jasmine + fresh coconut) I felt enthusiastic when I read this description because it sounded like an excellent mixture of ingredients. After Maggie and I debated the merits of white chocolate (and she justified that it is actually a chocolate despite certain criticism), I took my first bite. Vosges was aiming for a truffle with subtle flavors and they definitely achieved it, but I was hoping for something a little more tangy or zesty. I wanted the lemon and coconut to jump out at me and I wasn’t honestly satisfied with their background role. This is just my opinion; I still give Vosges credit for their creativity.
10. Barcelona Bar (deep milk chocolate + sea salt + hickory smoked almonds) This bar is one of the more simple selections at Vosges. All of the flavors merged nicely taste after taste and it was quite enjoyable. This would be a good choice for people who don’t like spices or bacon in their chocolate.
11. Naga Truffle (deep milk chocolate + sweet Indian curry + coconut milk): The instant I heard the word curry, I felt discouraged about trying this truffle. However, not only did I want to be adventurous, but I was assured that the flavor resembled more of a chai rather than a curry. (For the record, I am so picky that I don’t like chai either, but it’s more palatable to me than curry) My first bite contained an exact mix of chocolate, coconut, and a hint of some sort of chai. It was not spicy but rather contained subtle notes of all of the flavors normally found in chai. I liked this truffle more than I thought I would but it wasn’t memorable so that is why I ranked it towards the bottom; if you like curry then go for it.
12. Red Fire Tortilla Chip (crunchy organic corn tortilla chips + deep milk chocolate + ancho & chili powders): This was described to me as the ultimate comfort food; I do appreciate its potential, but as I told Maggie I don’t like chilies. I figured I’d be daring and try it anyway and I was pleasantly surprised: my first bite did not contain much spice and was tasty (as far as milk chocolate goes). Most of the heat was left on your pallet after biting into the crispy chip and I marveled at how Vosges was able to execute this piece of magic. Bottom line: I’m not a fan of milk chocolate and really not a fan of chilies so this was my least favorite, but if you do like these two ingredients then you will probably enjoy this one.
That’s all for now, but as soon as my stomach stops hurting from all of that chocolate goodness I will embark on my next foodie adventure.