Ten American craft chocolate makers and 16 confectioners were honored with 2015 Good Food Awards last week (Jan. 8) in San Francisco. What is remarkable about these winners is that a majority of them were won by artisans unknown by this veteran reporter. And that’s the fantastic thing about American craft chocolate and confectionery movement: It has wide tent-appeal, welcoming a new wave of creative craftsmen and women.

Some of the winning products show remarkable culinary imagination. For example:

  • Sunnyside Local Produce’s Salted Orange Wheat Beer Caramels
  • Xocolatl de David’s Sourdough & Olive Oil Bar
  • Patric Chocolate’s Red Coconut Curry Bar
  • VIDERI Chocolate Factory’s Strawberry Anise Ganache
  • Feve Artisan Chocolatier’s Caramelized Chai Spiced Almonds
  • Big Picture Farm’s Roasted Raspberry Rhubarb Goat Milk Caramel.

As a presenter for the chocolate awards, Guittard President (and Good Food Awardee) Gary Guittard  touched on why it is so vital to encourage and recognize these craft producers and their influence on the preservation of fine flavor cacao.

“An artisanal maker wants to keep the inherent flavors in the cocoa bean and adjusts the production process to fit the bean he is working with,” Guttaird said. “Many of these classic cocoas could be lost if it weren’t for the special chocolate makers who keep these flavors alive. When you taste chocolate that is produced slowly, with care and with a focus on the particularity of the bean, you are tasting what chocolate tasted like 100 years ago. It is the marriage of terroir with post-harvest practices that are most importantly not lost in the production process. It is the art of chocolate flavor.”

In his address to introduce the confectionery winners, Lucas Farrell (also an awardee) touched on the plight of the American small farmer. The co-owner of Big Picture Farms, a producer of goats milk caramels, called attention to a New York Times article, Don’t let your children grow up to become farmers. Published Aug. 9, author Bren Smith noted the dire financial status of these farmers. With median farm incomes in 2012 at -$1,453, 91 percent of small-scale farmers must hold second and – sometimes — third jobs. Given such bleak prospects, Farrell opined why anyone would want to chuck a 9 to 5 job and go into farming.

“If your kids are a little cuckoo anyway, and are going to follow their passion no matter what, then it can be good,” Farrell said. “It can be, actually, pretty extraordinary. To afford them the adventure of doing something they love, and figuring out how to make it work. I guarantee you everybody on this stage has found it to be a worthy ride.”

The Good Food Awards honor craftsmen who produce food that’s both delicious and responsibly made. To win, contestants must receive top scores in a blind tasting and pass a vetting process to verify their company’s commitment to environmental and social criteria. Rather than selecting an overall national winner, winners drawn from each of five regions (west, central, east, north and south), a process designed to foster regional diversity. The highest three scoring products are selected per region; hence, up to fifteen winners per category are possible (or more, in case of tie-scores; or less, when the quality of the entrants isn’t up to the judges’ standards). In addition to chocolate and confectionery, nine other food categories are honored: beer, charcuterie, cheese, coffee, honey (new category), oils, pickles, preserves and spirits.

The event’s Master of Ceremony was Bi-Rite Market’s owner Sam Mogannam. Opening remarks were made by New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman and closing remarks by Sarah Weiner, executive director of the Seedling Projects, the event’s producer. The Good Food Award medals were bestowed by Alice Waters (often described as the Mother of the Slow Food movement), Ruth Reichl (author and co-producer of PBS's Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie) and Nell Newman (founder of Newman’s Own Organic).

Following the awards ceremony, a gala reception provided guests with the opportunity to sample some of the award-winning products as well as meet the producers.

Chocolate Winners

Confectionery winners:

The complete list of Good Food Awards winners can be found here.

Curtis Vreeland, president of Vreeland & Associates, specializes in confectionery market research. He has been spotting trends in the premium confectionery sector for Candy Industry Magazine for seven years.