Woodblock ChocolatesImagine walking down aisles and having people on all sides thrust samples of exquisite chocolates your way. If this is your idea of a dream come true, you’ll love Portland’s annual Chocolate Fest. Chocolatiers from around the Northwest – and a few from even farther a field – participate in this annual fundraiser for the World Forestry Center.

This year’s festival ran from an opening party on Friday, January 24, through Sunday, January 26. In addition to classic chocolate bars, festival goers sampled truffles, sipping chocolate, cupcakes, fudge, and, for the opening night 21 and over party, chocolate-inspired cocktails.

Each year, the audience chooses the best in show. Since there are way too many excellent chocolatiers to tell you about, I decided to choose winners in my own categories. Here they are.

Beauty

Rose City SweetsTaste, of course, is the most important aspect of chocolate. But boy, some of the candies I saw at last night’s opening party were beautiful! CocoTutti, from the San Francisco Bay Area, has the most colorful bon bons and truffles. Plus, they were extremely generous with samples. I’m not going to tell you how many flavors I tried. Okay, most of them. You can choose your favorites and they put together a magnificent custom box.

The other most beautiful chocolates were the chocolate covered caramels rolled in edible glitter, made by Portland’s own Rose City Sweets. Owner Shanda Kimber sells them arranged rainbow-like in pretty boxes.

Bold Flavors

I admire chocolatiers who stand by their flavor convictions. If they tell me it’s a chili chocolate, I want to feel the burn. I don’t want to stand there sampling a chocolate saying, “Oh, I think I sort of taste that.”

Kilkina Chocolat, owned by Kristina Pescatore didn’t skimp on the lavender in her lavender rose chocolates, which are made with lavender essential oil and dried rose petals.

Another Portland area chocolatier, Ana Trevino of Exotic Chocolates also truthfully advertises her flavors, whether billed as lemon, orange or banana. This is the best banana chocolate ever! Her banana habanero won an award at a state chocolate festival.

CocoTuttiI don’t like to give two awards to one chocolatier, what with the convention center so full of wonderful chocolate makers. But CocoTutti also gets my vote for best spicy chocolate with its peanut-covered ginger caramel with Thai chili. Spicy and perfect.

Nutrients

Chocolate lovers everywhere console ourselves with reports about the nutritional benefits of chocolate. I’ve also been treasuring recent good news about coffee. But some chocolatiers take the nutritional idea more seriously than others. Several chocolatiers at the Chocolate Fest are especially dedicated to making chocolate as nutritious as possible.

Portland’s Stirs the Soul has 14 signature chocolate bars and makes more than 50 products. Chocolatier Daren Hayes uses four different sweeteners – dates, honey, agave and coconut palm sugar – to make chocolate accessible to most people, regardless of allergies. Hayes makes both raw chocolate treats and roasted. Proponents of raw chocolate – and other foods – avoid the enzymatic breakdown that happens when food is cooked at more than about 118 degrees.

The Chocolate Conspiracy, a raw chocolate company based in Salt Lake City, is dedicated to retaining nutritional quality and deliciousness. One of its bars – available around Valentine’s Day –  allegedly combines several aphrodisiacs. And they wrap their bars in gorgeous labels made from illustrations from an old poetry book.

Passion

Chocolate makers are a passionate crowd. While I’m not saying producers of widgets, gaskets, and whatchamacallits aren’t excited about selling their items to the public, chocolatiers have a special enthusiasm. They make candy! People love candy!

I couldn’t possibly say who was most passionate about their chocolate. But here are just a few examples.

Brother Bliss of Blissful WundersCharlie Wheelock, who owns Portland’s Woodblock Chocolate, is one of the few bean to bar chocolate makers. He loves chocolate so much that he sources his own beans and takes them all the way through to smooth dark chocolate bars.

Kallari is another bean to bar company. But this one is in Ecuador. Their US rep lives in Portland and was at Chocolate Fest to passionately tell festival goers about the Kichwa people who live in the Ecuador rainforest making this chocolate. Their website tells how travelers can work a volunteer internship with Kallari. Fluent Spanish speakers and hardworkers only, please.

Brother Bliss, owner of Olympia, Washington’s Blissful Wunders, dressed his passion by wearing a brightly-colored jacket picturing cacao trees. He hand-makes a huge selection of organic chocolate treats. When I asked him his favorite flavor, he hemmed and hawed and acted like I’d asked him to pick a favorite child. “I never discriminate against a chocolate,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”

http://chocolatefest.org/

http://www.kallari.com/

http://www.cocotutti.com/

http://kilikinas.com/

http://www.rosecitysweets.com/

http://stirsthesoul.com/

http://blissfulwunders.com/

http://www.woodblockchocolate.com/