Not all festivals are as interesting as the Colorado Chocolate Festival, a Dana Cain creation that started out with chocolate-covered Twinkies, wine slushes, a guy dressed up like a box of Swiss Miss cocoa, some fine local chocolate makers kicking ass and winning awards -- and ended with an introduction to the slutty side of chocolate from a guy in a kilt with no skivvies on underneath.
The fourth annual festival was held in the Denver Merchandise Mart Friday afternoon and all day Saturday; admission was free, and tasting tickets were only a buck each.
As I walked in the door, I was immediately greeted by two locals: Patsy's Candies and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Along with a spread of chocolate goodies, Patsy's offered up some seriously good cheddar and butterscotch popcorn: After years of surviving on the semi-stale stuff out of a generic Christmas tin can, I found Patsy's far fresher, with no scary tin can in sight.
You can't go to a mall without smacking into a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store, and you can't enter the stores without being smacked by a formidable array of chocolate-dipped things on sticks. At the festival, squeezed in between the rows of dipped apples on sticks were chocolate-covered Twinkies on sticks, which is probably one small reason that people in other countries hate us, and a small reason that being an American is pretty great.
Tasting chocolate makes you really thirsty, so discovering the d'Marie's (franchised, out of Ohio) booth was like finding a refreshing oasis for legal adults. D'Marie's "Frappe Vino" is a mix that, when added to inexpensive wine (in this case, sangria) and put in a large, spinning machine, creates a frozen treat that really should be available in every mall -- and I sincerely wish it was available in my kitchen every day.
I kept hearing buzz from other tasters that there was a guy dressed up like Swiss Miss, with a wig, makeup and everything. As it turned out, this was absolutely true: Chris Parente, Saturday MC at KWGN Channel 2, was guest hosting the day's event dressed up like a not-quite-passable but still charming cocoa girl. "Every year my outfit gets more humiliating," said Parente, and he may have to dive deep on this one for next year. He led a modest crowd in song, getting the folks to offer rousing renditions of both the Kit Kat and Almond Joy commercial jingles before announcing award winners of the Chocolatier Championships.
The award for best toffee included a $200 prize and a nifty plaque, and it went to Linder's Toffee out of Fort Collins. Bill, Linda and Gregory Matthews, architects of the toffee, were at their booth after snagging the prize, passing out samples. I'm not a big toffee fan. After many years of fusty, molar-shattering boxes of commercially produced toffee, I'd rather gnaw on fish hooks than eat the stuff. But I will give Linder's credit: This was light and crisp, dipped in rich, dark chocolate and a walnut/almond blend. Good game. The "Truffle Trifecta" awards categories were Best Traditional Truffle and Best Non-Traditional Truffle ($500 and a plaque for each), and the 2011 Grand Champion Truffle ($1,000 and a plaque). Roberta's Chocolates out of Denver won the best traditional truffle award for its raspberry heart truffle, and 2011 grand champion went to Robin Chocolates for its Mexican mole truffle.
Best non-traditional truffle went to Black Star Chocolates' basil lemon truffle, and I hurried over to the Black Star booth to get a sample before the stampede hit. Andrew Starr, co-owner with Jennifer Spielman, was manning the side of the booth that I was able to reach, and his sweetness was trumped only by the seriously, crazy-delicious truffles and chocolates that I shamelessly popped like Valiums. The lemon basil truffle was a white chocolate-ruffled sphere dotted with vivid green, and I could smell the aromatic basil before it hit my tongue. The inside was melting perfection -- dense but creamy and smooth -- and the lemon was a good balance of sweet and tart, with the basil complementing. Although the flavor combination is not new or unique to the culinary world, it's appealing to find it in candy form.
I realized quickly why Black Star's space was so crowded: Its wares included tiny chocolate squares flavored with jasmine, lavender, chai, pomegranate-raspberry-rose, fresh mint and a rosemary caramel that was almost too pretty to eat, but I ate several anyway. Black Star set the bar high here, and it's a small company to keep an eye on because it takes the chocolate gig seriously -- and that shows. Chocolate got naughty when I stopped in at the BTS (stands for "Better Than Sex") Chocolate Honey booth. Owners (and spouses) Chris and DharmaLynne Fuller out of Fort Collins had tables set up with rows and pyramids of glass jars filled with gooey, honey-based chocolate sauces with names like "Naughty Nectar," "RazzGasm," "OrgasMint," "Sex-Presso," "Original Sin," "OMFG," and "Chocolate Slut."
These sauces can be drizzled over cake, ice cream or, apparently, nekkid body parts; the description of Chocolate Slut read, "Go ahead, stick a finger in our Chocolate Slut. You know you want to. She won't mind." I wanted to finger it, but instead I used a nice, clean, God-fearing toothpick.
I bought a small jar of OrgasMint to take home; the sauce is silky, and the cooling mint lingers after the rich chocolate has been licked away. I really needed this sauce for cake...or whatever.
I noticed that Chris was wearing a rather fetching leather kilt, and I asked DharmaLynne whether he was sporting any shorts under it.
"Nope," she said.
"Nothing?" I asked.
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"Nothing but pride," she said, using a pretty, refined Scottish accent.
There was much to be proud of at this year's Colorado Chocolate Festival, and the Winter Park Chocolate Festival is coming up on Saturday, June 25, at the Village at Winter Park Resort.