Champagne Chocolate in a Beer Town (Pop Rocks Bar)
I’m back from my Wisconsin adventure with some candy stories to share.
We spend our annual vacation at a cottage was on a lake outside a small city called Rhinelander in Northern Wisconsin. Rhinelander (population 8,000) is a pretty non-descript town, with a derelict main street struggling to keep its head above the rising tide of Wal Mart and Home Depot. You wouldn’t come here unless, say, your in-laws lived in the town. But the area surrounding Rhinelander is green and unspoiled, dotted with lakes and vacationers fleeing Chicago. It’s what they call the “north woods”: flat, woodsy country, anchored by the Wisconsin River.
The history of Rhinelander is all about wood. This is Paul Bunyan territory, where plaid flannel and sharp axes provided the raw materials for a growing nation. In the nineteenth century, Rhinelander was a major hub in the processing and transport of logs and raw lumber. Today, Rhinelander is a factory town. There’s the paper factory, where wood pulp and chemistry do their magic.
And then there’s the Fun Factory, where the raw materials are of the sweeter sort.
The Fun Factory sells ice cream, a few house made chocolates, and an eclectic assortment of those strange candies that may or may not have been around for 75 years: Cow Tails, Choward Violets, Laffy Taffy. This is the kind of place that won’t survive trying to compete with the Walgreen’s and Walmarts in town, so don’t look for your typical brand names. For the candy curious, it’s a gold mine.
I found a few oddities that intrigued me. One of them was this Pop Rocks Bar, whose name pretty much gets at what it is: chocolate and pop rocks in the form of a candy bar. Cybele May’s review at Candy Blog reports the debut of this bar in 2007, but I suspect I’m not the only one who’s never seen one.
This is a small bar, especially by American standards. But the bar wasn’t made to American standards, I suspect. The wrapper says it was made in Spain. I think in Spain they may be a little behind the U.S. in the whole “supersize” phenomenon.
I was so curious about this bar that I rushed out to the Fun Factory porch to try it before the nice lady had even closed the cash register drawer. My assistant tasters (aka husband and daughter) were with me; what good luck to discover that the bar is scored in precisely three pieces.
When you bite into the bar and work the chocolate a bit in your mouth, there is a lot of fizzing and popping and explosive crunching. You know the sensation from Pop Rocks, but the chocolate sort of muffles the effect (in a good way, I think). The “pops” in the bar are colorless and flavorless, so the chocolate is all you taste. The pop is pure sensation.
The closest comparison would be a chocolate bar with those rice crispie crunchies in it, like Nestle Crunch. But a rice crispie that melts in your mouth just turns to sog, where as a pop rock that melts in your mouth explodes. So where a Crunch bar asks you to take action to get the crunchy effect, Pop Rocks lets you passively await a crunch and pop and snap that happens to you. The pops will pop, they just won’t stop. So don’t try this one unless you’re good and pop-ready.
Now I didn’t find the Pop Rock bar to be particularly “good.” The chocolate seemed cheap and waxy, and I wanted it to melt more smoothly to work the popping effect without so much chewing on my part (if you chew, the pops pop better). I only ate one square, and I didn’t feel I would need to continue, on that day or any other.
I sat there on the Fun Factory porch with the sort-of melting chocolate and the fizzing and popping in my mouth, and I thought: champagne. Popping chocolate is for grownups, for parties, for nights when the champagne corks are shooting toward the ceiling and the bubbly is flowing in fountains. Popping chocolate should be smooth, European, melting to the touch. Popping chocolate should be a morsel passed in golden cups on silver trays as the sun sets on the Riviera.
Popping chocolate is a brilliant idea, but not for kids and 7Elevens. This one needs a do-over by a real chocolatier. Call it “champagne chocolate” and pass it to the grownups, and I think you’ve got a hit on this season’s society circuit.