I’ve recently been trying to decide whether artisan and gourmet foods are available in more places than ever before, or if my gourmet food radar is just improving. Maybe it is some of both, but I’m continuously (and pleasantly) surprised to find fantastic gourmet foods where I least expect them. Such was the case last week when I ate several meals at a hospital cafeteria. My reason for lunching there involves a long story, but it had a happy ending. Anyway, I was standing in line to pay for my pre-made, cellophane-bagged ham and cheese sandwich (á la 7-Eleven), when I spotted this beautifully wrapped chocolate bar.
For a split second, I considered returning the sandwich to its bin and going straight to dessert! However, I dutifully ate about half the sandwich, then unwrapped my special treat. The chocolate inside was just as beautiful as its packaging.
The sweet and chewy Michigan cherries, crunchy dry roasted almonds, and creamy, melt-in-your-mouth 55% cocoa Belgian dark chocolate were love at first bite. That verdict was unanimous among the tasters, and the bar was gone in a flash.
Timothy Moley is the chocolate genius behind Boulder Colorado’s Chocolove, and describes his venture into gourmet food production as a classic entrepreneurial tale with a dream, a garage, and over extended credit cards. The dream started when Timothy was in an Indonesian cocoa field. His goal was to create premium chocolate with an aura of romance. He studied the art and science of European chocolate-making and targeted American consumers who appreciated premium chocolate. Chocolove’s packaging resembles a love letter postmarked in a faraway place, and each inside wrapper contains a love poem. Chocolate lovers, rejoice, as Timothy’s dream included making his chocolate bars affordable enough to be a daily treat. Timothy sets the example by enjoying 2 bars daily and with 24 flavors, boredom is not likely!
Fortunately, Chocolove is not just available in hospital cafeterias. Order from the company’s website, or use their “Find a Store” function to locate some close to home. You will love this decadent chocolate bar!
I heard about this Denver, Colorado company by way of Talladega, Alabama. That’s where my brother and sister-in-law were traveling when they noticed 34°. They were stocking their hotel room with snacks during a business trip, and ran across 34° products at a local market. I got an email report on how much they enjoyed the Cracked Pepper Crispbread the same day they arrived back home, which was my clue to search them out in Dallas as soon as possible. I had to make a few stops before finding them at Market Street. (Note to Karen – we have to go to Market Street in Colleyville on your next visit. You are going to love it!) Because Primizie Crispbreads were already on our radar screen, I had a preconceived notion of what 34° would be like, but I was wrong. While Primizie Crispbreads are hearty and crunchy, 34° Crispbreads are very delicate and crisp. So same name, both very yummy, but distinctly different.
You’ve heard the term “wafer-thin”, right? 34° Crispbreads might be the wafers that set the standard. These super-crisp crackers are almost translucently thin. They have generous flecks of cracked black pepper, rustic shapes and a cool swirl design. Best of all, they are scrumptious! The company’s website recommends enjoying the crackers with cheese, so I tried them with some gouda. The cracker provided a very satisfying crunch with a little pepper heat without overwhelming the cheese. They are also extremely tasty straight from the box, just as the carton promises!
Craig Lieberman found his passion for fine foods as a grad student in Australia. He was inspired to import specialty foods from Australia and operated his Colorado-based business until 2008, when he decided to change course and produce his own foods. Native Australian crispbreads were the inspiration for his 34° crackers, which were created especially to complement cheeses. In addition to the cracked pepper flavor, 34° offers natural, sesame, rosemary, and whole grain. The company’s website has an easy search feature to find a retailer close to you. These crackers would be great to keep on hand for easy entertaining!
Aren’t candy canes the quintessential Christmas candy? I stopped short in the grocery store last week at a beautiful display of candy canes in multiple flavors — root beer, cinnamon, cherry, strawberry, and of course, peppermint. On closer inspection, I was amazed to read that the candy canes were handmade. I grabbed a peppermint candy cane and hurried home to do some research and tasting.
Hammond’s Candies opened in 1920 in Denver. When Carl Hammond announced on his first day of high school that he didn’t need any more education, his mother allowed him to quit school on the condition that he get a job. He found a job as an apprentice candy-maker, which set the course for his career. Like the owner of many new business ventures, Carl did it all. He developed the recipes, made the candy, and sold it. As demand for his candies grew, so did the company. Hammond’s gained national status in 1995 when Williams Sonoma offered the handmade candies in their stores. Three generations of the Hammond family led the company until 1999. The current owners have expanded the company while continuing the handmade traditions, and maintaining the high standards of quality that were important to Carl. Company tours (fun!) became part of Hammond’s operation, with an annual Candy Cane Festival in December being the high point of the year.
I’ve been doing some extensive taste-testing as I have been working on this post, and there’s just something about a candy cane that brings a smile to my face. It isn’t just that I love the taste of peppermint, although Karen and I had both a major obsession with peppermint candy when we were in high school. Candy canes bring out the kid in all of us, no matter our age. Hammond’s peppermint candy canes are simple perfection.
You can find Hammond’s candy canes in many fine retailers, or order directly from their site. They have many other varieties of candy to choose from, but this time of year, it’s all about the candy cane!