A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to Vegfest UK at the Brighton Centre – it was an incredible experience and you can read all about it here. There was so much to see and do at Vegfest that it wouldn’t fit in one blog post – there were so many different chocolate, food and home stands that there was enough to write a series on each aspect! In this vain I thought that I would highlight the best, the worst and the unique for each of these topics. As chocolate seemed to be everywhere at the festival (and it generally is a popular topic among veggies, vegans and carnivores) that this would be the best topic to start with.
Ironically as a supertaster I am not a fan of milk chocolate – that said I am good at tasting nasty under laying tastes or chemicals. For me it was going to interesting to see how they dealt with trying to recreate milk chocolate without the use of any dairy products. So here are the chocolate highlights (and low points) of my journey around the Vegfest UK in Brighton.
It was clear from the first few stalls the level of chocolate that would be present at this event – of the first three stalls two of them sold some chocolate food, while the third was a make-up stall with chocolate themed names for their colours!
The first chocolate shop that I got to try was Caravan with its table covered in beautifully wrapped chocolate bars. As it was all about their fillings rather than flavoured chocolate, there was only two tasters on the table – their take on a vegan milk chocolate and a thick chocolate caramel filling.
As this was the first vegan chocolate that I tried, it was a little overwhelming. It was a rich full bodied chocolate but with a creamy sweet undertone that most vendors seemed to struggle to obtained. It was the caramel though that got my attention, it was one of the most beauitful caramels that I have tried for a while! Though I wasn’t a fan of the chocolate edge to it – it was thick, creamy, sweet and a complex enjoyable journey for the taste buds. I was gutted to hear that they didn’t sell it on its own (as most people would prefer it inside chocolate).
I wish that I hadn’t tried this first as I would have realised then just how exception company are compared to most in creating a vegan but yummy chocolate, which is also available with a yummy caramel fillings! Check out their website as they sell so many different variations – they might have something that will capture your imagination.
Ironically one of the other chocolate companies that was actually enjoyable was the Raw Chocolate Company – their table was filled with jars upon jars of tasters so that you could try every flavour. I was clear approaching the table that this was already a popular company as I heard the excited shrieks of girls and chatting of excited as they saw a brand they adored. The table was flocked with people talking in excitement to the stall holders about new flavours, admiration of their products or stocking up on lots of their favourite chocolate taking advantage of a special offer for the show.
The wrappers may not look as elegant or fancy as others but the vibrate branding echos the experience of eating their product. Their focus is very much on the chocolate than any fillings or appearances. Their vanoffee chocolate – what they call their “white chocolate” is the best milk chocolate that you will find. It was creamy with toffee taste lightly coming through. This was the lightest milk vegan chocolate that I found all day and definitely tasted the best.
Again as this was one of the first chocolate stalls that I came across, I didn’t realise until later how good this really was. It turned out that the best chocolate companies were hidden in the side corridors or stuck in corners – the ones that I either found last or first because of this.
There wasn’t just chocolate but desserts, soaps, perfumes, milk and sauces that were chocolate themed. Chocolate was really everywhere with almost every other stall having at least one chocolate product. Having been to quite a few food festivals or fairs, chocolate is prominent but not to the extent it was at this Vegan Festival.
Clearly milk chocolate is a product that vegans miss and so these tables boasting something like the childhood treat or offering free chocolate tasters were flocked by excited vegans. While it might be listed as a vegan festival, the number of lactose intorlate people I found exploring their options in the world of food, especially chocolate, was incredible. I met a lady who was allergic to milk so using the Vegfest to find and test out milk free products – her main goal was to find a chocolate those as she missed eating milk chocolate.
Now in the food hall there were more chocolate companies but right until the last stall I was just let down again and again compared to the first few that I had had the opportunity to try out. Many tried to hide this through crafty methods such as having no tasters, or the gentleman I met at Plamil Foods.
Right in the middle of the main hall was Scoff – a stunning fudge company I would highly recommend. Her fudge was beautiful and even compared to non-vegan fudge it is definately worth checking out – she even sold chocolate and bailey’s flavoured fudge. It for me was a beautiful food high – I am not ashamed to admit that I am a sugar addict. While I was tasting some amazing fudge I heard a voice above the crowds and accompanying giggles and murmers of an audience forming. I joined in half way to listen and take in this man’s speech about the “whoas of all the other vegan chocolate companies” before he finally started to talk about his own chocolate. Here in front of crowds of people he spoke of the terrible junk that everyone else puts in their vegan chocolates, that not only are bad for you (none of which was true) but made their take on a vegan milk chocolate horrible. After the mildly enjoyable experience of the other vegan chocolates, I was interested to try this wonder chocolate. After having gone on for 5 minutes about the terrors of their competitors, he finally spent 2 minutes explaining how his was creamy and full of only naturally good ingredients.
Now this I had to try – here was an outright claim of the best chocolate I was going to try all day that resembled normal milk chocolate so I picked up a piece as he handed out samples to try. As I am a supertaster I tried to take the smallest piece but craftily this company was giving away big chunks which impressed everyone around me. Even that smaller piece was way too much as I nibbled a small corner expecting a silky and creamy taste as described to be hit like a tonne of bricks by an awefully bitter taste. It was so overwhelmingly bitter and rich that everyone thought I was choking on it! The sales man even came over saying “are you ok – I know it tastes so nice and creamy but don’t choke trying to gulf it down!”
Of course after regaining my composure I explained that the overly bitter taste had overwhelmed me only for him to walk up and tell me that I was tasting a creamy chocolate not a bitter one. That is correct – Plamil Foods sales guy stood there trying to tell me what my own taste buds were saying – here is a stupidly rich bitter chocolate that you can not eat any more of but still I was being told I was incorrect. I rebutted with how I was a supertaster and that this was the most bitter chocolate I had tried all day and could I have a bin to put the rest of this slightly nibbled chocolate and was ignored. I am not surprised – here his sales tact was working on large audience but some 5″2 girl was telling him this chocolate that he had worked for years on to get it to taste a little creamy only using natural vegan ingredients was heavily bitter…
It was though after all a clever sales tact – in a crowd everyone else agreed how creamy and silky it was but as they disappeared to other stalls you could hear the voices of those also underwhelmed by the claims. Crowds displays can be so effective as mob mentality kicks in – how often have you been swayed by stalls that put forward someone who captures a crowd to sell something you really would not have bought otherwise! For their “lots of this – none of that” range this was going to be an effective way to draw in customers to buy from them – even if it was for their more expensive ranges that also had tasters scatters on their large corner stall.
It however in second place when it came to taste experiences at the Vegfest – number one position also went to another chocolate company called Cocoafeliz. Now by this point it was clear almost every single chocolate company had tasters – even Plamin foods with their take on milk chocolate had a extensive range of things that you could try. Near the edge of the main hall was this incredible looking stall of glass cabinets all filled with all sorts of chocolates within. Half of them were vegan milk, white and dark chocolates but in shapes of Doctor Who and star wars creatures and items but the rest were carefully laid out to give the impression that you get when going into a boutique chocolate store. Gold and red colours made the chocolates look stunning and worth the £1.50 per tiny chocolate.
For the first time in years from exploring boutique chocolate shops or food fairs I finally came across for me the hold grail of chocolates – caramel in white chocolate! As you can imagine I was overjoyed – here I was facing what clearly was one of the most elegant chocolate stalls at the whole of the show and they were selling a chocolate I only see once every 5 years.
Now at this point I was starting to run out of cash, and as it was £1.50 per chocolate I only decided to get one and then order more online – that was the plan until I bit into it and then threw up into my hand! That is right – I threw up because Cocoafeliz had created a chocolate that was so disgusting and then had the indignity to charge £1.50 for each vomit inducing chocolate. What’s worse is that as I had been so eager to try out this chocolate that I threw up in front of the stall that even when I asked to put the chocolate and other residue into a bin I could see was behind their stall I was ignored and sneered at. Yes I may have involuntarily scared away the 6 people looking at their chocolates but there I was standing with throw up in my hand in front of their stall.
Luckily I was rescued by the wonderful man at Soul Juices who let me use his bin but also gave me a napkin to clean it up. It turns out that he and a couple of other stalls I talked to after that point had fallen for the glitz of their stall and ordered a box which now resided in a bin uneaten. It was so off putting but I am glad that I did continue to try foods here and there as I found Mini Moos – the last stall I visited in the main hall as it was tucked away in a corner.
While I must admit that Caravan and Raw Chocolate Factory make good vegan ‘milk’ chocolate, I loved Mini Moo because they had a honeycombe covered chocolate that was creamy and sweet as honey. Trying out their chocolate it was clear to see that they were passionate about creating a chocolate experience that wasn’t about trying to recreate milk chocolate but something interesting and yummy. For someone like me it was a joy to try so much that I even purchased three of their mini bars!
If you love chocolate – whether or not you are vegan – I would suggest that you check out your local Vegfest as you might find something exciting and interesting to try. It is a fun and exciting experience full of passionate chocolate makers who are really interesting to talk to.
Do you have a favourite vegan chocolate? Did you to a local vegfest and find a great chocolate item? Are you thinking of going to a Vegfest now? Have you tried any of the companies I tried – and if so what do you think of them? I would love to hear about your experiences and opinions so leave a comment below!