In the earliest days of our relationship, food was common ground. And Lynn was far and away the more experienced gastronome. She turned me on to Malaysian cuisine. She explained that the Chinese food I had been eating–and genuinely liked–was, in fact, American food, promptly taking me out for the real thing. Lynn even gave me my first bites of sushi (or should I say “attempted” bites, as I struggled mightily with chopsticks back then). There was one food, however, that needed no cross-cultural exchange, clarification, or introduction: chocolate. When it came to chocolate, we were on the same footing from the start. It’s the foodie version of a universal language, after all.
“Your hand and your mouth agreed many years ago that, as far as chocolate is concerned, there is no need to involve your brain.”
― Dave Barry
Our mutual devotion to all things chocolate is what recently lead us to attend The Big Chocolate Show, an annual industry expo now in its second year. Now, we’ve been to quite a number of expos. Maybe you have, too. From coffee to books, and everything in between, our experiences have varied. Some were wonderful, some left much to be desired. One–which I will not name–felt like multiple Aruba timeshare marketing pitches. I’m happy to report that The Big Chocolate Show was a genuinely pleasant surprise. Among the 50-plus exhibitors, we found a diverse international collection of craft and large-scale expert chocolatiers showcasing a wide range of tempting products.
What to expect
Men and women from all walks of life were at the helm of each booth we visited. They shared their passion for chocolate, experiences in the trade, and details of their products and operations. Everyone was super friendly, and their personal stories were fascinating, often as sweet and complex as their products. Many are self-made, self-taught “formers”: former bankers, former bakers, former fashion designers and yoga teachers. And then there are farmers, all of whom took on chocolate-making and made it their own way.
The Big Chocolate Show also offers live demonstrations, book signings with writers and pastry chefs, and a variety of ticketed master tasting classes. But let’s be honest, the best part of the whole affair was trying out chocolates of different percentages, flavors, origins, and creations. And we’re not just talking about the occasional shard. Many of the booths offered whole pieces for sample, and none of the exhibitors appeared concerned with return visits. You’ll more than make up the cost of entry in the amount of chocolate you’ll sample. You can buy the ones you’re really fond of, and many of them were offered at a discount during the show.
Though there were a tremendous number of fantastic chocolates at the Big Chocolate Show, we thought we’d showcase some of our favorites, most of which you can order online.
2 Chicks with Chocolate (The Upstarts)
2 Chicks with Chocolates are a mother, a daughter, and an all-female staff out of Metuchen, NJ producing some incredible chocolates. Oh, but that’s not the whole story. This feisty, hard-nosed crew rolls deeper than that. They do classes, children’s activities, corporate events and parties. And psst! They even have a line of CBD infused chocolates. All that is nice, but it’s the chocolate that counts, right? Well, we sampled one–they have a whole lineup–of their seasonal barks with pumpkin seeds as well as what they refer to as “spice tiles”, which are small milk chocolate bars with an exotic blend of spices, and they were both excellent.
JoMart Chocolates (The Old Schoolers)
All you need to know about this multi-generational chocolatier is that it’s a Brooklyn legend. Why is that important? Because Brooklyn is about as crowded a field as you can get when it comes to chocolate-making. JoMart Chocolates opened its doors in 1946, and it’s still going strong today. Michael Rogak–the head chocolatier of JoMart chocolates–still uses the same stove and copper kettles to make his delectable sweets all these years later. And I’ll tell you, we were still talking about the simple discs of sea salted dark chocolate he handed us an hour after we’d left the show.
Mishti Chocolates (The Spice of Life)
Named for chocolatier Arpita Kohil’s daughter, Mishti Chocolates offer bean-to-bar, non-GMO, certified vegan and non-vegan chocolates with unique flavor profiles. Created based on her daughter’s allergies to various ingredients, no oils or extracts are used and each bar is free of soy and gluten. Of the varieties we sampled, we were particularly taken with the Darkest Lavender Sea Salt and Gingerony. Both had an amazing, melt-in-your-mouth texture, but what set them apart was the sensationally balanced taste and mouthfeel. The Lavender Sea Salt had a striking hit at the start with a smooth, deep chocolate finish, while the Ginger started off chocolatey and finished with a surprising warmth.
Amore di Mona (The Sophisticates)
With a 75% cocoa content, sourced from Belgium and France, and being vegan, non-GMO, low-glycemic, and preservative free with no gluten, soy, nut, corn, sesame, or lupin, you may be thinking, aside from the quality of the cocoa itself, can these chocolates possibly be good? The answer is yes. Yes, indeed. A Kentucky-based collective of nutrition-focused food artisans and health care providers, Amore di Mona were inspired by friends and family with food allergies, diabetes, gluten intolerance or who had chosen a vegan lifestyle. A generous sampling of their wares was proof-positive you can make something much, much healthier and still very, very tasty.
Roni-Sue’s Chocolates (The Taste of Home)
Leading up to Christmas every year, my mother would bake non-stop to ensure there would be tins of fudge, cookies, and toffee for the holidays. Much of the haul would go to my father’s coworkers and bosses, but a few would remain at home. My absolute favorite was her chocolate-topped toffee dusted with ground walnuts. It was far superior to the Heath and Skor bars found in grocery and convenience store aisles. In fact, I would argue it was the best toffee I’d ever had…unit I came across Roni-Sue’s Buttercrunch. As I stood in front of Rhonda Kave chewing away at a chunk of her incredible nutty-chocolatey-buttery product, I recognized what set it apart was the light, airy crunchiness of the toffee. I can only hope my mother misses this post.
Loving Earth (The Rule-breakers)
To start, there a lot going on with Loving Earth. They source heirloom cacao from the Ashaninka community, in the remote forest at the source of the Amazon River in Peru. Everything is plant-based and home-compostable: the bar, the box, even the wrapper (starch-based). Their product is organic, sustainable, direct trade, and bean-to-bar. There’s no dairy, cane sugar, gluten, or soy. And to top it off, their factory is solar-powered.
We admired all of that, for sure, but we also wanted good chocolate. And we were not disappointed. With good textures and interesting flavors, we were very impressed. Their Crunchy Mint Dark Chocolate and Lemon Cheesecake Caramel Chocolate proved so popular they had sold out of the bars by the time we made our way to their booth. But we did try a number of others, including the delicious Turkish Delight Chocolate, which we highly recommend.
Hagelswag (The Alchemists)
Lynn and I stood in silence, eyeing the gorgeous, “squircle-shaped” glass bottles filled with chocolate buckshot–and occasionally each other, in disbelief–while the founders of Hagelswag, Robbert and Lennart, explained the Dutch tradition of eating chocolate for breakfast. So what’s the basic concept? Hagelswag is a play on hagelslag (Dutch for hailstorm), known as a popular Dutch chocolate sprinkle invented by chocolatier Gerbrand Slag. Traditionally, the Dutch sprinkle chocolate onto buttered slices of bread. And yes, that’s absolutely as delicious as it sounds. The fact that Hagelswag’s handsomely Dutch-designed bottles are refillable and make an excellent gift is just icing on the cake.
Probably the best thing about The Big Chocolate Show was the crowd. There was so much enthusiasm, so many discussions. You had locals and tourists, whole families, chocolatiers–some with their own children working the booths–and there was a sense of joy and passion to the whole affair. As I wrote earlier, Lynn and I have been to a number of expos before, but The Big Chocolate Show was something–for lack of better words–sweeter.
Thank you to The Big Chocolate Show for partnering on this post.
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