This year I haven't been on a Pacific Island holiday but I have been away for two of the three Wellington on a Plate weekends (having a lovely time up the mountain and in Auckland and Waiheke, I might add) and my weekdays have filled up with meetings and appointments and a general sense of oh-my-god-so-busy that I haven't even gotten to a fraction of the things on my list.
Still, I've managed to fit in a bit, including the opening of the New Zealand Chocolate Festival last weekend, where I met up with fellow food bloggers Rosa, Shirleen & Emma and wandered around tasting chocolate for a while before I (sadly) had to head back to work.
I have to admit I'm not a chocolate-mad person. I don't go weak at the knees at the mention of truffles or ganache or devil's food cupcakes. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like chocolate - but I feel the same way about it as I do about all food: if it's done well, it's the best thing in the world; if done half-heartedly, I can take it or leave it.
So the best thing about the Chocolate Festival was seeing so many of New Zealand's artisan chocolatiers in one place, seeing so many people so passionate about what they do. I was definitely wowed by several of the stallholders. I won't list them all, but here are a few highlights:
She Chocolat are one of my favourite chocolate-makers... I was won over by their Decadent Dates years ago and have been out to their shop & cafe in Governor's Bay, Christchurch a couple of times. Here they were tasting nutty and rich dark-chocolate covered cacao beans.
Schoc is a Wellington favourite (made in Greytown) and they had a table full of their usual range of chocolate bars, but the most exciting thing was the little display of some new flavours: curry & pappadom dark chocolate and "Tropical Heat" white chocolate, with hints of coconut, pineapple & curry. I didn't buy any but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for these flavours - they were unique but I can see them becoming pretty addictive.
RQute is a relative newcomer on the chocolate scene. Rochelle roasts and grinds the cacao beans herself in the back of Ernesto on Cuba St before making adorably colourful, almost cartoon-like chocolate creations, including a range of chocolate lollipops and chocolate puzzles (which would make great gifts).
Criollo chocolates were down from Auckland selling a range of exquisite-looking moulded chocolates. The highlight for me, though, were these pralines. Light and crunchy and sweet but not overwhelming. I nearly bought a box until I realised I'd probably eat them all before I got back to work.
I couldn't not include Esque - the very lovely Annette is at the City Market most Sundays (I posted about it here) and makes the most special chocolate, exquisitely flavoured and elegantly wrapped in paper and ribbon. I took a block of her "buzz" chocolate - dark chocolate with manuka honey brittle - back to work in the hopes it'd soften the fact I was gone for so long on a Friday morning. It may have worked: it disappeared in a flash!
I'm glad I was able to attend the chocolate festival, even if I did miss out on some of the demonstrations because I had to run back to work. Other highlights included the tasting session run by Swiss chocolatier Rene Fellman (it makes sense, but I never stopped to think that slowing down and breathing in could bring out so many layers of flavour) and the warm, gooey pain au chocolate I messily ate while the opening formalities took place (and quickly ran away to wash the melted chocolate off my hands as soon as I could... oops!).
The organisers said they're hoping to make the NZ Chocolate Festival a regular event, and it might move around the country... here's hoping it's in Wellington again soon!