This Campbell's Marketing Stunt Is A Work Of Edible Art

Phillip Ashley partnered with Campbell's to create truffles inspired by Thanksgiving side dishes.

I knew the flavors before I received the chocolates, and I was bracing myself.

Campbell's, the soup company whose product is the secret sauce of many Thanksgiving side dishes, partnered with chocolatier Phillip Ashley this year to create a set of chocolates inspired by Thanksgiving food. The set costs $35 and includes chocolate truffles in the following flavors:

  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Jalapeño Cheddar Mac & Cheese
  • Baked Corn Casserole
  • Hot Honey Mashed Sweet Potatoes
  • Everything Bagel Mashed Potatoes
  • Apple, Fennel, & Herb Stuffing
  • A representative for Campbell's asked if I'd like to try the chocolates, and I jumped at the opportunity, because I love a good, strange food experience. But I had no idea what they'd taste like.

Offbeat truffle flavors are the goal

Before I got the chocolates, I had a chance to talk to Phillip Ashley about the project. Ashley was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee (the focus of one of his other chocolate collections) and studied chemistry in college, thinking he'd go to medical school. Eventually found his way into the business world, and it was in that chapter of his life that he had a lightning-strike epiphany: He wanted to pursue chocolate as an art form.

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"In 2007 I was working in the corporate world, and I woke up at three in the morning and had this crazy dream—'You know what, I'm going to be a chocolatier for the rest of my life,'" Ashley said. "I wanted to merge my love of food with what I had learned about the consumer packaged goods industry. I said, 'If I can create a product that tastes amazing, let's see what I can do with it.'"

From there, Ashley embarked on a journey of teaching himself about chocolate: cocoa, where it comes from, its history, the artistry, the chemistry. Along the way, he said, he developed his artistic voice, and he opened his business in 2013.

Ashley said his approach has always been "different and atypical," particularly because he embraces savory ingredients in his chocolates. Past collections have included chocolates made with blue cheese, barbecue, and collard greens, among other unexpected pairings.

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"It's about the chocolate and celebrating cocoa," he said. "But let's push the envelope. The thing that really stuck with me was that stick of gum from Willy Wonka—he did roast beef, tomato soup, and the potatoes. I always said, I want to be able to do that. I just have to not have people turn into a big blueberry."

Campbell’s Holiday Sides truffles, explained

Ashley said he's come to see working with savory ingredients as his signature, one that helps create a unique chocolate-eating experience.

"The thing I love to do most is take on the challenge of doing something that I know no one else would dare even do, or even have the ability to do," he said. "I used to be modest about that, but I've learned, that is my skill and gift. You have people who can do amazing sculptures; what I can do is really manipulate ingredients into a small piece of chocolate."

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As for this particular assignment, Ashley said he spent time studying all of the flavors at hand and coming up with concoctions that would both evoke and, in some cases, mimic a dish.

"Why not make a green bean casserole chocolate?" he said. "My goal isn't to just be sensational. When you taste it and it tastes like green bean casserole is supposed to taste, but it also tastes like a really good chocolate, that's the challenge."

What do Campbell’s Thanksgiving chocolates taste like?

I tried each of these limited-edition chocolate truffles, and the thing I'll tell you upfront is that I was surprised by how effectively the flavor of each Thanksgiving dish was captured in dessert form. The savory flavors were there. But at the same time, each one was a really good chocolate, too.

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Baked Corn Casserole

This piece was described as containing "cornbread, sweet corn, and Campbell's Cream of Chicken soup in a white chocolate bonbon." Although it didn't have a cake-like consistency at all—it was a creamy white-chocolate truffle—I was surprised that not only did the flavor of corn come through, but somehow, the heaviness of actual cornbread came through in the flavor, and especially in the aftertaste.

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Hot Honey Mashed Sweet Potatoes

This one contained "sweet potatoes, thyme, local hot honey, Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup and milk in a chocolate bonbon." The thyme and the hot honey really came through for me, and like hot honey in general, the burn was pleasant and balanced out by the sweetness. I wasn't expecting to enjoy thyme in chocolate form, but I did.

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Everything Bagel Mashed Potatoes 

This chocolate was "a Campbell's Cheddar Cheese soup caramel coated with everything bagel seasoning in a dark chocolate bonbon." The caramel itself was drippy and delicious, and I was surprised—although, should I have been surprised?—that everything bagel seasoning actually tasted quite delicious on chocolate. Adding to the intrigue here was the fact that, perhaps because of the inclusion of cheddar cheese soup in the caramel, this bite had a deep umami flavor that really hit me with savory, salty wonder in the back of my mouth.

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Apple, Fennel, & Herb Stuffing

Of the bunch, this one was the sweetest and most straightforwardly candy-like. Surprisingly, I didn't get hit over the head with apple with this one, but it was sweet and had no obvious umami, onion, or other confusing-in-chocolate element. It's described as containing "roasted apples, fennel, and Cream of Celery condensed soup" to create a "bread pudding blond chocolate bonbon."

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Jalapeño Cheddar Mac & Cheese

I really liked this one, but when I describe it to you, you might say "Huh?" This chocolate is "Campbell's Cheddar Cheese soup, triple cream Brie, and jalapeño-infused white chocolate ganache in a blond chocolate bonbon." The bite was very forward with the Brie cheese, a flavor you might understandably reject in a white chocolate truffle, but I'm telling you, it worked. The jalapeño was particularly exciting here: it was buzzy and hot, with the edge of its intensity immediately soothed by the sweetness of the other elements.

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Green Bean Casserole

I was the most afraid to try this one, so it came last. But just as Ashley assured me, it was just a really quality chocolate. It's officially described as "Campbell's Cream of Mushroom condensed soup, green beans and onion infused sea salt in a dark chocolate fudge bonbon." I could see bits of bean in it—see the hints of green in the photo above?—but it didn't taste exactly like biting into the famous casserole. Instead, it was decidedly a chocolate, one with deep umami flavor (presumably thanks to the mushroom soup). It was a rich truffle, and nothing to fear.

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Aside from the flavors being surprising and delicious in six different ways, it was also a group activity; I cut each truffle in half and shared them with my husband, and we watched each other's reactions as we were surprised by each one. The success of this collaboration speaks to Ashley's work more than anything else—he's creating sets of chocolates that aim to surprise, and what could be more surprising than the mundane American feast of canned-soup-based dishes rendered in gold-spattered chocolate?

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