There was much to be done and being a little excitable, we hit a number of the tasting stands including the Hans Sloane Chocolate stand where we sampled several hot drinking chocolates. I must confess that I feel I am a purist when it comes to hot chocolate; I like the drink it in what I feel is its purest form as do the Northern Italians and French. Sometimes it is the simplest things that provide the greatest of pleasures; warming the milk, dropping in a hunk of dark bitter chocolate and stirring in the sugar a few lumps at a time - yum. However, being that I was at the show and not in Europe, I was easily won over by the Hans Sloane Drinking Chocolate. I personally preferred the drinking chocolate made from Madagascan cocoa over the Ecuadorian cocoa. This could have been down to the cocoa content (67% vs 70%) and that the Ecuadorian drink had a long lingering banana taste which I really didn't enjoy at all. But I was completely torn when it came to picking between Madagascar and Rich Dark; so did what I do best and promptly proceeded to purchase both varieties. At this point, I would like to highlight that I was clearly on a budget busting exhibition trawl!
Afterwards we spent some time with the Barefoot Wines Team having a great discussion and private tasting of their new Moscato wine range. The Moscato grape and the wines produced by Barefoot are much sweeter than I'd normally drink. And after about 20mins discussing where and how the grapes are grown and why they are going to be the next trend in wine making/drinking, I was beginning to feel inclined to agree (hick) with anything that they said about the wine. However, on reflection, I do believe that the Ruby Moscato would make a really good tipple if drank very cold and as a delightful aperitif, instead of a sherry.
Time marches on as always, we still had a lot of chocolate sampling to be done, a Master Chocolatier Session, Truffle Making, a Brownie competition to enter and there wasn't much time left in the afternoon. I do love to learn a little whilst at these consumer events and so meeting Martin Christy from Seventy% and sitting through his tasting sessions was enormous fun. Not only because for a vast percentage of the time you were required to be eating chocolate but also because it was a great excuse to switch off the background noise and learning about the different types of chocolate - what's good, what's not and why it works and makes us feel good when we eat it. I was pretty pleased with myself at being able to list the FIVE flavours that the human mouth can taste (sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami) but was surprised by Martin's revelation that there had been a new study on the thousands of smell (taste) receptors in your nose. I have since tried to find this study and have failed - so if anyone knows about it, please ping me a link, as I'd like to read it.
Anyway, during the session we learnt how to taste fine chocolate - and how we could extend the knowledge into a Level 1 certificate with the International Institute of Chocolate Tasting, a qualification that's not dissimilar to that of the basic level in Wine Spirit Eduction Trust. We could have also stayed until gone 7pm to attempt the Sensory Tasting Workshop but after 4 hours of everything being accompanied with chocolate, I felt it was time to call time. But before doing so, it was the right moment for some serious Brownie sampling from Bad Brownie, Batch Bakery, Paul.a.Young, The Brownie Bar, Cocoa Loco and Outsider Tart. I have to confess that being a coeliac I couldn't join in on the tasting session to enter the competition but my friends dived in and by the end (after several journeys around the hall to the relevant sampling stands) were torn between The Bad Brownie and The Brownie Bar as their favourites. For me though, the upside is that I'm off to Bad Brownie to taste their gluten-free brownie at the Venn Street Market, Clapham next Saturday (and every Saturday there after should the gluten-free brownie taste as good as the hype). The Bad Brownie team reliably informed me they produce a pretty mean gluten-free brownie which is always on sale there. I'm inclined to believe the hype too as The Bad Brownie Company won the Best Brownie Ever Trail competition voted by consumers throughout the ran of the Chocolate Festival this weekend. In the meantime and to starve off my desire to consume further chocolate, I'm going to make some Flourless Double Chocolate Brownies and see if I can take my two samples of Bailey's Chocolate Luxe and turn them into a delicious brownie sauce!
One of the products that I did taste and have continually raved about all weekend are by Pudology. These glorious pudding pots are for those of us (as Man would say) with 'weird food requirements'. Created for coeliacs and lactose allergies, these pudding pots are all gluten and dairy free. I tasted the Chocolate Pud, and the Chocolate Orange Pud which were amazingly creamy and had a deeply rich chocolate flavour. I really couldn't tell that they had no dairy. I wasn't keen on the Banoffee Pud as I don't think it is possible to replicate the biscuit base required and I've found that these bases always seem to have a very powdery consistency. I will however be popping off to Waitrose to try out some of Pudology's fruit pudding pots and come June/July they will also be available in Tesco.
There was only one disappointment and that was we didn't get a chance to take up the Truffle Making Challenge (so much chocolate eating and prosecco drinking to be done). But in a small way, I'm pretty glad that we didn't as Paul.a.Young (and his team) were taking on some fairly primitive antics. In the two sessions I watched I witnessed a number of participants beginning to loose themselves in chocolate and perhaps slightly over share that love by smearing it upon each others faces. And as no one batted an eyelid to these antics, I'm pretty sure that should I have joined in, I'd probably have had to find a way to take the chocolate smearing up a notch which would not have been a good idea for me, my friends or my train journey afterwards!
BTW, as if any of us really need an excuse to eat chocolate but on researching around the festivals, I did find that there is not only an International Chocolate Week during which Salon du Chocolat is held (17-19 October) but there is also and International Chocolate Day (13 September) - the latter seems to be a North American celebration, but I'm not sure I would complain too much if it were to became a British celebration too!