I suppose that having the occasion to sample and then judge chocolates from some new as well as established chocolatiers can be viewed as a task that only a chosen few have been graced with.
To do so twice, would seem a luxury that few are accorded.
Amazingly, such an opportunity did befall me. Of course, as editor-in-chief of Candy Industry for the past 10 years, you would think that the act of sampling and tasting chocolate should be a daily occurrence. Let’s just say it has its cycles, with seasonal offerings and show occasions providing me with more theobroma tastings, and summer - for obvious reasons - providing fewer chances.
In the past, Candy Industry also has organized a chocolate hazelnut contest, which required chocolatiers to concoct a praline and/or truffle using chocolate from a specific supplier and hazelnuts. During that event, I acted as a judge alongside several other experts, ranging from a culinary chef to a Chicago newspaper food critic.
Several years ago, I also was asked to judge chocolates at a Next Generation chocolatier event as well as a Chicago Luxury Chocolate Salon, which was organized by Taste TV.
It was my association with Taste TV that connected me to the two most recent judging opportunities, the Las Vegas and Chicago Luxury Chocolate Salon tasting events.
I didn’t really know how the judging would be handled until I received an e-mail from the organizers. First, in asking whether I wanted to be on the judging panel for Chicago, they also inquired whether I would be willing to also double duty for the Las Vegas event.
Thinking “how can one say no to chocolate,” I agreed. What followed was a most pleasant lesson in the depth and breadth of chocolatiers throughout America.
First, I received a large box containing samples from chocolatiers participating in the Las Vegas competition just before the Fourth of July holiday. In gazing at the various samples from 11 chocolatiers, I realized this was going to be a rather daunting task.
Our judging score sheet had various categories that the samples had to be evaluated; this wasn’t going to be a snap process. Aside from reviewing chocolate bars, truffles and pralines that were now scattered across my dining room table, I had to look for best presentation and packaging, best gift set, best ingredient combination, most luxurious chocolate experience, etc.
On the first night of sampling, after tasting the 10th piece of chocolate, and making my appropriate notation on the sheets in front of me, I simply had to stop. My palette, despite cleansing with water -- and wine -- was overloaded.
So I realized that this tasting process would have to continue over several nights in order to give every chocolate piece their due.
What was especially engaging about this judging was the caliber of the samples I was tasting. Rich, wonderful chocolates featuring some amazing ingredient combinations that simply delivered incredible flavor sensations. Bravo, America! You have arrived as a nation that has both talent and skill in artisan chocolates.
Oh yea, then the second box of chocolates came, this one for the Chicago Luxury Chocolate Salon judging. Luckily, several of the chocolatiers that were participating in the Las Vegas competition also were doing so in the Chicago event.
Although I won’t reveal how I voted or for whom, I will simply state that the chocolate renaissance that’s been going on in the United States continues to be in full bloom.
Chocolatiers involved with such companies as Amano Aritsan Chocolate, Jade Chocolaes, Vice, Chocoveda, Coco-luxe, Aphrodite, Alter Eco, Jade, Posh Chocolates, Dolce Bella and Marti Chocolates can take a well-deserved bow.
And that’s just from the Las Vegas competition.
So visit www.luxurychocolatesalon.com to find out the state of chocolate. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well we’re doing here in America.