By Chris Maza
WEST SPRINGFIELD – If the Big E’s annual media preview of this year’s food offerings is any indication, this year’s fair will be a chocolate lover’s dream.
But if you ask Gene Cassidy to name the best place to get your chocolate fix at the Big E, it’s in the Better Living Center.
“Coolest thing ever if you’re a chocoholic. Great stuff,” Cassidy said while standing at Chocolate Moonshine’s table.
For the 17 days of the Big E, Chocolate Moonshine, distributed locally out of Longmeadow by Brian Wright, will be offering up their European-style chocolate in the Better Living Center. Wright said he would put the Belgian chocolates, hand painted with French cocoa butter, up against anybody’s.
“They’re probably in the top-1% of chocolate in the world. They’re really, really good,” he said.
The Pittsburg-based company doesn’t actually use alcohol in their chocolates. Wright explained the name came from the stir company founder Christopher Warman made when the smell of chocolate liquor wafted through the neighborhood while he was developing his recipes in his basement.
While some of the chocolates are available in retail locations, the primary sales avenue for Wright is events like the Big E. This year, he will be featuring approximately 25 of the company’s 41 different varieties. Flavors include sea salt caramel, triple chocolate, dark espresso, black raspberry, hazelnut, chocolate cheesecake and black cherry.
“You come up, you can sample what you’d like and you can mix and match your own,” he said.
In addition to the candies, Chocolate Moonshine will also feature award-winning fudge. Wright explained the fudge, made in small batches was far smoother than most fudge and doesn’t have the gritty texture.
“It has a nice, creamy texture that people really enjoy,” he said.
If that isn’t enough for you, a Big E staple is also getting the chocolate treatment.
This year for the first time, the Big E Bakery’s signature cream puffs will be available dipped in chocolate.
“We had a lot of customers last year asking about a chocolate topping, so we were accommodating them with the éclair chocolate, but it’s a little too thick for the cream puff shell,” explained baker E.J. Dean. “So we went home and we made a homemade ganache. It comes warm, we dip the covers right in and melts and hardens and looks like it has that night oozy flavor. It really gives that chocolate lover a little extra burst.”
Dean said the classic cream puffs will also remain as well as the popular éclairs. When asked what he thought made the cream puff so popular year after year, Dean said, “The size exemplifies what the Big E is because it’s just a big cream puff. Even the éclairs are larger than what you’d normally get at the bakery.
In addition to that Dean said the quality of the cream used to fill the puffs helps them maintain their integrity so no matter where or how you choose to eat them, the experience is consistent.
“If you want to take these home, when you get them home, they look like you got them fresh,” he said.
Stella’s Milk and Cookies will also feature a cool treat for the chocolate lover in your fair-going crew with its flavored frozen hot chocolate. Featuring chocolate peanut butter and caramel at the media event, April Taylor, representing Stella’s, said they will also have Irish crème, coffee, fall pumpkin pie, peppermint and cookie dough.
“Anthony served hot chocolate last year, but this year we wanted to take it to the next level with the variety of flavors,” Taylor said
To go along with the frozen treat, The Coffee Break will have deep-fried pineapple upside-down cake on a stick.
Those looking for a frozen drink but not in the mood for chocolate can make their way over to the Young Building for a “Friesling” frozen martini made with Riesling wine, original V-One vodka, white cranberry juice and peach puree.
Of course, the Big E isn’t the Big E without some classic belly-filler options. Porky’s Barbeque’s “Barbeque Split” fits that bill. Owner Vito Marotta explained the dish, available on Commonwealth Avenue, was a combination of barbeque beef brisket, pulled pork, garlic mashed potatoes, coleslaw, cherry tomatoes and St. Louis style ribs with a little bit of barbeque sauce.
“You’ll need a good appetite for this one,” Marotta said.
Packing a lot of flavor into a little ball, Chompers is introducing a new finger food outside Farm-A-Rama – the chicken, bacon and cheese Chomper, served with a buffalo ranch dipping sauce. Made with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, diced chicken breast and bacon, breaded with panko breadcrumbs, these will only be available for the 17 days of the fair.
Those seeking the “the best hummus ever” need look no further than Noujaim’s Mediterranean Foods at the Big E Bistro in the Young Building. Just ask owner George Noujaim.
“It’s my recipe – authentic, original, no fillers, no preservatives. Just like we make it at home,” he said. “We’ve been doing it since 1988 before the hummus craze even began.”
In addition to the hummus, Noujaim’s will be serving falafel and spanakopita.
The Big E runs from Sept. 13 to 29. For more information, visit www.thebige.com