Sunday, January 19, 2014


Loot gleaned at the 2014 Fest—I ate all the rest of the chocolate!
Ladies, start your engines. If you haven't yet attended the annual Santa Cruz Chocolate Festival, presented by the UCSC Women's Club, now's the time to plan for next year's event. For those of you who came in late, here's how it works.

While I'm still sucking chocolate out from under my nails after this year's Fest, here are my notes on what's trendy and tasty this year. Salty Caramel, the poster flavor two years ago, and various combination of chocolate and chilis are still popular, but this year, my intrepid tasting buddy, Marta, and I noticed an upsurge of toffee varieties.

Best of show for me were the toffee samples at Goose's Goodies. We got two hefty, brittle-like toffee samples per tasting ticket, and while the Mexican Chocolate Chile and Pepitas was good, the Dark Chocolate, Orange Peel and Cashew toffee combo was a religious experience! A perfect combination of dark, dark chocolate (my favorite) and crunch. Of everything I tasted, this was the goodie I most wanted to take home, but, quel horreur! When we returned to the booth, they had run out of that flavor! Next year, get there early and buy immediately!

(Goose's Goodies are local, but they have no storefront; at the moment, their only contact info is their Etsy shop online.)

We also loved the pudding-rich dark hot chocolate from Harwell Hot Chocolate in Freedom. (We didn't even bother sampling the Milk Chocolate variety—we have our standards!) And we discovered a gorgeous Dark Chocolate Cabernet Truffle from Lula's in Monterey (above). Not much of a Cabernet flavor on the tongue, but you could sense the presence of the wine in an impossibly smooth and sophisticated chocolate mouthful. Yum!

A returning favorite was Theo Chocolate from Seattle. They advocate for sustainably produced chocolate items (their dark chocolate is now GMO free), and while I was seduced by their combustible Pili Pili Chili variety last year (it burned so good!), this year I discovered a very tasty 70% Dark Chocolate and Ginger bar with a nice candy crunch inside.

Also popular this year was Mission Hill Creamery, serving up a nicely complex Lime Cardamom Yogurt dipped in (what else?) dark chocolate. Marta had hers rolled in nuts too, but I took mine straight!

Marich Confectionary from Hollister had a novel set-up. One ticket bought you a small paper cup, into which you could scoop as many of their chocolate-covered treats as you could cram in from deep, fishbowl-like display jars. We sampled, chocolate covered blueberries, strawberries, cherries, curry cashew, and, of course, toffee.

For the terminally sugared out, there was David Jackman from Chocolate dishing out Chicken Mole, and Joe Schultze from India Joze doling out savory Chocolate Pork. Several local wineries were pouring as well (a tasting glass costs $5 in addition to the $15 entrance fee, which buys you six tastings), but, hey, we were there for the chocolate!

The event is a fundraiser for Re-Entry Student Scholarships at  UCSC. So make plans for next year, and taste away with a clear conscience—it's for a good cause!

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