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Candy Review: The Choke Cherry Tree

Categories: Candy,Candy Reviews,Chocolate Candy,Gourmet Candy,Hard Candy,Oddly-Named Candy,Soft Candy

Choke Cherry Tree Caramels

Normally, I’m reticent to eat candy from Mom-and-Pop stores like The Choke Cherry Tree. It’s not that I don’t believe that a small-time company can’t compete with the Teuschers of the world, but it’s very difficult.

And how many times have I heard an endearing story about a small business and its great craft to only to be let down by its quality? Sadly… many. And I do like a good story mind you, but as much as I enjoy the tale of how Milton Hershey stumbled upon his success with an episode of sour milk, I still strongly dislike his chocolate bar.

So, the story of how Grandpa Bill (who sadly passed away in May) started his candy-making business from jam and preserve beginnings at his grandmother’s apron strings made me more than a little wary. Still, it would be premature to write-off the Choke Cherry Tree before sampling their products, and having done so, I can honestly say a least a significant portion of their hype is not only well-deserved, but also well-earned.

Plain Caramels: These were the babies Grandpa Bill launched an empire with, so I thought it would be fitting to start with them. Unwrapping them from their wax paper rolls, a clear indication that they are not only hand-made, but hand-wrapped, they resemble beige Tootsie Rolls, but twice the size.

The piece has a slight stick to it, but nothing drastic, and thankfully, no waxy presence to be detected. I take a whiff and it smells like cinnamon, an unexpected aroma from a caramel. This surprise is minute compared to the others I receive as I bite into the glorious candy.

It is so, so, so… soft. That is the first reaction that I cannot get out of my head. Much like I was surprised consuming English toffee, the pliable counterpart to American toffee, these took me breath away. I never associated the words “soft” and “caramels” together. My logic tells me that these must be prepared slightly under the soft crack stage when cooking to achieve such an effect, but even then I am not so sure since there is no indication of an undercooked quality in the flavors.

The taste is buttery and creamy, reminding me of a snickerdoodle, which is again an association completely out of joint with my perception of caramels, but a lovely one nonetheless. There is also no stick factor, which means no remnant pieces are affixing to your teeth.

These are hands down the most refined and delicious caramels I have ever tried. To call them caramels seems almost an injustice since they defy the stereotype of what people are accustomed to eating. Beyond the pleasurable texture, the taste refrains from being bold and overly-sweet, relying on a sophisticated blend of flavors to present a complete taste package to the consumer. It is easy to fathom how Grandpa Bill manage to build an entire line of these alone because they are that fantastic.

Caramels with Nuts: These are a bit firmer to the touch. A quick smell reveals the presence of walnuts, an interesting companion to caramel. When tasting, the same, smooth nature of the regular caramels that impressed me so is still present in this version.

The nuts, however, are the main flavor component, almost praline in their chewiness, as at times they even seem to be a viscous liquid and not a crunchy solid. The packaging did not reveal which nuts were infused, but my tongue told me walnuts and pecans were present. Exploring the website, it revealed my tongue was correct, but almonds were embedded, too.

I do enjoy nuts, but I can’t say I did in this fashion. In this case, their flavors were too bold to share the stage with each other in such a dense and small morsel of candy that is the caramel. I couldn’t taste the almond and I lost the flavors I enjoyed about the regular version. There is simply too much going on in this piece.

Overall, it is still pleasant, and nut-lovers will enjoy this piece more than I did, but tasters should be prepared for the combustion of flavors and a minimal burning of the throat from the richness.

Choke Cherry Tree Poops

Baby Buffalo Chips: O.K., before I review these, let me explain what a “poop” is. It’s a caramel coated in chocolate that is shaped in a spherical-like object that resembles… well you know.

I think my pieces were somewhat melted in transit, but if that is true, it does not diminish the nice dark chocolate aroma wafting up to my nostrils. Again, the feathery caramel I adore so much is the star component.

I will say that I did not really care for these. I believe the chocolate coating is too thin, with no snap to it, indicating that these might be produced from tempered chocolate. It also has a slight waxiness indicative of tempered chocolate.

Breaking of a piece of the residual chocolate, it reminds me of the semi-sweet morsels Nestle manufactures for baking. Is this what they temper? Probably not, but it tastes like it. As such, people familiar with those chips know that it’s a faint chocolate, explaining why the taste of it was overpowered by the caramel.

There were overtones of fruit and honey, but nothing as complex as the regular caramel. I believe after trying these that my theory that chocolate goes well with caramel but caramel does not go well with chocolate is further confirmed.

Moose Poop: The smell of these resembles the Buffalo Chips, and they too seem a bit melted. The break is easy, soft to bite through as always, and the same mélange of pecans and walnuts is detectable as they were in the caramels with nuts.

These seem to just be the caramels with nuts coated in the muted chocolate. Even more than before, with the nuts overpowering one another within the presence of caramel, the added chocolate here is just too congested.

Choke Cherry Tree Toffee

Almond Toffee: I previously reviewed LalaBoodle’s line of toffee, and though I did not think they were amazing, they were very respectable, and I often use them as a benchmark for good toffee. I feel the Choke Cherry Tree suffers from the same inherent flaws as LalaBoodle.

The smell is of various baked goods you might smell when walking into a pastry shop, undoubtedly a result of the butter. The piece itself is crunchy, not hard to bite into, contained in respect to its stickiness factor, and not too rich to be enjoyed.

The negative of this is that the almonds and chocolate are obscured by the bolder toffee taste. I feel these would have been more successful without the two added ingredients; if they were to be kept, a thicker layer would be needed to counter the toffee.

My overall impression of the Choke Cherry Tree is still a positive one, if mainly because of the caramels. Those babies alone are worth all the praise in the world. I can understand why Grandpa Bill wanted to expand his confectionery line by infusing the caramels with more intricate components, but the additions mask and mar the beauty that is the refined “scrumtrulescent” nature of the original product.

I have always harbored a secret desire to have my own reality TV show on the Food Network, where I get to take a road trip across the country, visiting the best candy factories the US has to offer. If I ever did have such a show, I would have to make a stop at Pagosa Springs, the finest caramel capital of the world.

Editor’s Note: I personally love mom-and-pop operations, and The Choke Cherry Tree is no exception. You might not get fancy-schmancy packaging, but you get a real personal feel and some freaking delicious caramels (no, seriously, best caramels ever) in the process. If you’re looking for a great gift for yourself or someone else this coming holiday season, you should definitely give these folks a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Candy Review: LaLaBoodle’s Gourmet Toffee

Categories: Candy,Candy Reviews,Chocolate Candy,Gourmet Candy,Hard Candy

LalaBoodle’s Sampler Tin

For the longest time, my palate’s intelligence for toffee has resembled my career in high school geometry: I liked the class and got a B, but I was nowhere near as good in it as I was in English (chocolate) and Science (gummi). Toffee always seemed likable, but I never ate enough of the stuff to be an aficionado.

Toffee itself is a simple candy made by boiling sugar and mixing it with butter. Though most Americans identify toffee by the way it appears in Heath and Skor bars, it can take several forms. English toffee is a derivative that can be chewy, and honeycomb toffee is aerated, as found in Crunchie and Violet Crumble bars.

Toffee tends to be a flavor spread around by the British, resulting in it being more popular in Europe and its colonies rather than in the U.S. When I was living in New Zealand, I was exposed to a variety of toffees of all different textures and tastes, which were never readily available to me back in the States. This inundation of the sweet created my craving for toffee that still exists today.

When I was offered to write a piece on LalaBoodles’ Gourmet Toffee, I couldn’t turn down the offer. I had never sampled gourmet toffee, and the descriptions of what they produced were so enticing that I circled my mailbox for an entire week until they showed.

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