THE NIBBLE BLOG: Products, Recipes & Trends In Specialty Foods
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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Lillie Belle Farms

Lillie Belle Farms
Beauteous bonbons, handmade by the artisans at Lillie Belle Farms. Photography by Dhanraj Emanuel.
  A few years ago, chef Jeff Shepherd stuck a toe into the chocolate business by selling four flavors of bonbons from the back of his car at farmers markets in southern Oregon. Today, the nationally-acclaimed, award-winning artisan chocolatier is master of a product line of more than 20 confections that includes some of the best chocolates, caramels and toffees in America—not to mention our favorite product from this year’s Fancy Food Show, the Smokey Blue Truffle (that’s a chocolate ganache and blue cheese truffle, and before you raise an eyebrow, everyone who tastes it wants to buy a box).
While the entire line is not certified organic, many of the ingredients, including the chocolate couverture and the fruits grown on Jeff’s two-acre organic farm, are. We formally certify that everything in this line is a must-try. We would practically hitchhike to Oregon for the Lavender Salt Caramels, the Spicy Cayenne Caramels, the flavored toffees (Cocoa Nib, Macadamia Nut, Pistachio and Spicy Pecan) and those Smokey Blue Truffles. Read the full review.
See more of our favorite sweet treats in the Chocolate Section and the Candy Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.

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REVIEW: Aquadeco Spring Water

When we first reviewed Bling H2O spring water, we thought it was the ne plus ultra of spring water packaging. It still is—it’s hard to do better than a frosted wine bottle with embedded Swarovski crystals that exclaim “bling.” But depending on your taste (in bottles, not water), you may prefer Aquadeco, an Art Deco glass bottle blown in Slovenia in the design of a vase, according to the manufacturer (but we think it looks like a trophy). Even better, there‘s an optional stand for the bottle that lights it from underneath. Give ‘em the old razzle-dazzle: At $35 a bottle, it’s a gift that is perfect for anyone. Who doesn’t need to drink more water? It’s certainly a desktop conversation piece (it truly looks like you won an award), and it’s refillable (with—gasp—tap water or your favorite jug spring water) for serving water at home or for drinking more at work. Read the full review, and take a look at Bling and other waters in the Water Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.   Aquadeco Spring Water
Canadian spring water in a “trophy” glass bottle.
 

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TRENDS: Bottled Water News & Blues

San Pellegrino Water
To drink, or not to drink: That is the question.
  Americans consume 97.5 liters of bottled water per capita (25.76 gallons), according to Nestlé, the world’s largest water bottler. In 2006, 8.25 billion gallons’ worth of bottled water was sold, a 9.5% increase over 2005. More bottled water is sold than milk, and it almost has caught up to beer. According to the economic consulting firm ECONorthwest, bottled water sales are expected to exceed carbonated soft drinks in overall sales volume in the next decade. Nestlé, which sells 72 brands of bottled water in 37 countries, had a 38.5% market share of the North American market in 2006. The company’s brands include imports Aqua Panna, Contrex, Perrier, San Pellegrino and Vittel; U.S. brands Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Ozarka, Poland Spring and Zephyr Hills; and brands under the Nestlé label, such as Aquarel. The introduction of flavored water and enhanced water (water with added vitamins, herbs and extracts) has aided growth of bottled water. Both represent a small, yet rapidly-growing, segment of the market—197% for flavored water and 41.7% for enhanced water in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available. These products are typically made from filtered, municipal tap water or well water rather than from spring water; Twist, which we reviewed recently, uses artesian well water (it’s also kosher and organic).
All is not rosy, in watervile, however. ECONorthwest does stress that the bottled water industry is coming under increased scrutiny for a number of its practices. Something so seemingly healthy is the antithesis of “green.” The bottling process is very inefficient: Nestlé, for example, reports that it requires 1.86 liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water. The landfill of plastic bottles—more than 75% of bottles are never recycled—has environmentalists up in arms. The fuel usage and emissions that arise from trucking so many billions of gallons of water around the country (and shipping water around the world) has a negative environmental impact. There are also questions regarding the purity of bottled water, which is not inspected by the government, compared to tap water, which is rigidly checked by municipalities. Finally, communities that have aquifers (underground sources of water) find large water companies moving into their towns to pump and sell their water. In towns like Fryeburg, Maine, Poland Spring pumps 200 million gallons a year from the local aquifer (water that locals say should be flowing naturally into the local pond), bottles it, and, in the words of community organizers, “wears out our roads trucking it out of town.” While Poland Spring has offered free cases of bottled water to the first 50 people who come to their office in Fryeburg for “hot coffee and real communication,” a local advocate, Howard Dearborn, is offering $10 to the first 50 people who pour their Poland Spring water “back into Lovewell’s Pond, where it belongs.” It’s a 21st-century Boston Tea party. Read more at DefendingWaterInMaine.org and WaterWaves.org.These environmental concerns have begun to affect consumer behavior and could slow or reverse the growth in what has been a spectacular market. Examples, previously reported in Gourmet News & Views, include directives from city governments, led by San Francisco, to cease purchase of bottled water with city funds; and the cessation of sale of bottled water by some restaurants. However, fine bottled water that is enjoyed for its unique properties—like Perrier, San Pellegrino and Vittel makes up a small amount, perhaps 15%, of water sales in the U.S. The bulk of sales goes into gallons, five-gallon containers, and the millions of filtered tap water products like Aquafina and Dasani, for which there are alternativs—filters on water taps, and Better Water Drinking Water Filter Bottle, a refillable, biodegradable plastic bottle made from corn resident with a built-in filter that makes tap water taste great, is good for 90 uses. Each biodegradable bottle saves 90 plastic bottles from landfill. We highly recommend it as a holiday gift, for everyone you know who totes around water bottles.

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REVIEW: Holiday Liquor Gifts

If you’re in the spirit to purchase spirits as holiday gifts—or to stock your own bar—here are a few we thought noteworthy this year:
– Canton Ginger and Cognac Liqueur
– Chivas Regal Aged 25 Years (Limited Edition)
– Rogue Spirits Hazelnut Spice Rum and Spruce Gin
– St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
– Van Gogh Double Espresso Vodka
Read the full review to find out why we liked them. Find more of our favorite spirits, plus cocktail recipes, in the Cocktails & Spirits Section of THE NIBBLE online magazine.
  Chivas Regal 25 Years Old
Limited-edition 25-year-old Chivas is a nice way to celebrate the holidays.

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L: KITCHENWARES: OXO Good Grips Sink Strainer

oxo-sink-strainer.jpg
The best sink strainer: We’re so happy!
  If you’re in the market for a sink strainer, this is the best there is. We say that, having tried about 12 of them over the past three years, as the original steel drain that came with our 40-year-old sink went kaput. Since then, we’ve tried every sink drain cup, strainer and device sold by every hardware store, kitchen store and website that crossed our path. Evidently, OXO listened to people with problems like ours—unfortunates who live without sink trash disposals, who have to clear away every last scrap of onion or tea leaf by hand. The OXO sink strainer—which is much more attractive than it appears in their photo—is a stainless steel rim with a pliant silicone perforated cup. You empty the strainer simply by pulling on the handle and reversing the basket.
But if you don’t even want to lift the strainer out of the sink, you can actually scoop them out with a spoon. Of all the $150 appliances we’ve tested this year, here is one simple, $6.99 gadget that is truly useful, and actually works exactly as it should. We’re not surprised, because everything we’ve tried from OXO Good Grips has been superior to what we previously had. But we have to take a minute to say: Thanks, OXO: You solved our problem. Available at Oxo.com.

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