Review: The Hawaiian Vanilla Company

mmmm, Vanilla! An unexpected treat was finding a vanilla farm on the Big Island. This company is the only vanilla farm in the US. Their story is interesting and their products are top quality, but what we really loved was the lunch! We signed up for the lunch and farm tour not really knowing what to expect, but it sounding like something different to do. The lunch was actually a guided tasting, demonstration and information session all rolled into one. First, we chose between vanilla iced tea or vanilla lemonade or a mixture called the Arnold Palmer. Now, you don’t expect much from a drink with vanilla (remember that you don’t actually taste vanilla), but this was yummy!  As we learnt, vanilla acts to meld and combine flavours so it lessons the tartness of the lemons and mellows the astringency of the tea.

Then, the chef demonstrated the appetizer. I may not get the whole thing right, but it was a vanilla curry shrimp on a toast point with pineapple vanilla chutney. As I was allergic to shellfish, I had it with brie instead of shrimp. Again, the sweetness of the chutney was just right – not too sugary. Now, at this point, what was supposed to have been just lunch and a tour was rapidly becoming a shopping trip since they carried most of these products in the store. But my Aunt and I thought we would still be able to get out of there with under $100 worth of goods.

The main was a chicken sandwich and salad – with vanilla of course! The salad dressing was vanilla-raspberry vinaigrette and it wasn’t like any vinaigrette I’d ever tasted. The sharp acidic notes were all rounded out and complemented the feta and pecans beautifully. The sandwich, which already had a marinade of citrus-bourbon (vanilla) on the chicken and onions also came with 2 sauces: mango aioli and barbeque (with vanilla). But the bread itself incorporated the vanilla.

Now, at this point, you may be thinking enough with the vanilla! But it really added to the flavours that were already there. Not overwhelming at all.

With the 2 sauces (3 eating possibilities if you blend them) and the actual sandwich, we decided on a empirical eating experience, cutting the sandwich in quarters so we could have all 4 tastings. Personally, I preferred the vanilla barbeque sauce by itself, but it was all yummy. At this point, my aunt and I decided we’d probably be going over $100 walking out of the store.

(oh, did I forget to mention the oven-roasted taters?)

Lastly, dessert. Finally! THIS is what vanilla was made for – the sweet stuff! Dessert was vanilla (duh!) ice cream with a lilikoi (passionfruit) curd. (Note the empty glasses in the background). One of the best desserts I’ve had in a long, long, long time. The curd was neither sickeningly sweet as some can be nor terribly tart as commercial lemon ones can be – just right.

Ian (the oldest son) was the one who gave us the farm tour as well as hosted the lunch and is a wealth of information (how can you really argue with anyone who’s been growing vanilla since he was 6 years old? – although I still say he should have sang for us the way we saw on the video). The tour is interesting for anyone who has never seen a real vanilla plant or who is interested in orchids!

In short, I’d highly recommend this as one of your stops on the Big Island!  (oh, and if you were keeping track, I did make it out of the store with less than $200 worth of products!)

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