Decadence at the Northwest Chocolate Festival

One recent rainy weekend in Seattle, Local Pickins headed indoors to the 5th Annual Northwest Chocolate Festival to sample specialty artisan chocolate and pick up some culinary tips from award-winning pastry chefs and chocolatiers. The festival showcased the most popular chocolate makers in Seattle, such as Theo Chocolate, Chocolopolis, Forté Chocolates, Fran’s Chocolates, and George Paul Chocolates.

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George Paul’s hand-crafted 58% dark chocolate with peppermint is perfect for the holidays. These delicious caramels from Fran’s Chocolates are sold in beautiful gift boxes. Theo offered samples of all their classic organic chocolate bars, including this rich and tropical 70% dark chocolate coconut. Forte’s white chocolate cloud was some of the best white chocolate I’ve tasted in a long time.

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It was exciting to discover new chocolate makers from the northwest and across the country. The family-operated Arrowhead Chocolates from Joseph, Oregon offered samples of their specialty caramels.

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Karen Neugebauer of Forte Chocolate and winner of the Artisan of the Year Award debuted Gusto, her new line of savory chocolates. My favorite was the Rosemary Sea Salt, a blend of organic rosemary and sea salt from the coast of Portugal and their signature white chocolate.

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I loved the Preserved Meyer Lemon Caramel Sauce from Hotcakes Molten Chocolate Cakery in Seattle. Can’t wait to try this drizzled on one of their molten chocolate cakes. Happy hour, anyone?

One of the most interesting flavors of the weekend was the coconut wasabi truffle from Bellingham-based Evolve. Coconut, wasabi, dark chocolate, and sesame all in one bite!

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People packed around bean-to-bar maker Madre Chocolate, an award-winning chocolate maker from Hawaii. They use lightly processed cacao beans from organic farms in Central America and Hawaii, flavored with traditional ingredients from the tribes that invented chocolate. I made sure not to leave without a bar of their rich and creamy coconut milk and caramelized ginger dark chocolate.

Another highlight of the festival was the stone ground chocolate from Taza Chocolate made by hand at their factory in Somerville, Massachusetts. Using authentic Oaxacan stone mills to minimally process the cacao beans creates a textured chocolate with bits of cacao and cane sugar. My favorite was the 70% dark chocolate salt and pepper disc.

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Between bites of rich organic chocolate, I attended a culinary demonstration for Scharffen Bergen chocolate soufflés with cocoa bean cream by Alice Medrich, pastry chef and foremost expert on chocolate desserts. She provided helpful tips on baking with chocolate (stainless steel bowls-yes, double broilers-no) and even made a beginner like me feel compelled to try this at home. While the soufflés were baking, she even snuck in a recipe for olive oil truffles for the audience to sample. Delicious!

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After a weekend of decadence, I headed home with a bag of artisan chocolate and a new appreciation for the origins and processing of chocolate from around the world. I’m already looking forward to next year’s festival, but until then, Thursday happy hour at Chocolopolis will have to do.

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