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This was a year filled with extraordinary food and beverage adventures.  It was difficult to narrow down a “Best of the Best” list, but here are my picks for 2011:

Best Overall Coffee Experience: Roasting beans and doing a comparative tasting with Scott Miller, owner of Ogeechee River Coffee Company, Savannah, Georgia.

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Best new chocolate confection chef: Chris Kollar of Kollar Chocolates in Yountville, California.  Especially love his passion fruit, coconut and peanut butter chocolates.

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Best foraging adventure on a farm: La Petraia in Radda in Chianti, Italy, with owner and chef, Susan McKenna Grant.  Foraging was followed by a cooking class and lunch that featured our foraged ingredients!

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Best wine harvest experience: Goosecross Cellars, Napa, California. Was such a learning experience to follow Winemaker Geoff Gorsuch during the pressing and crushing of the grapes for their Viognier wine.

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Best new chocolate bar: Askinosie Chocolate, Springfield, Missouri.  I absolutely adore their new single-origin bar made with cacao beans from Honduras.

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Best organic olive oil discovery: Castelas’ Biologique Olive Oil, Les Baux de Provence, France.  Grassy, aromatic, spicy and delicious.  This is a perfect finishing oil.

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Best dish using brussel sprouts: Bottega Restaurant, Napa Valley, California.  Their new crispy brussel sprout salad is phenomenal.  I was upset that they took their shaved brussel sprout salad off the menu but this new salad is truly superior – so full of flavor and crunch!

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Best new diner: The Fremont Diner in Sonoma, California.  Farm-to-table, Southern-inspired dishes such as BBQ pork sandwich, collard greens and housemade biscuits.

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Best sugar discovery: Wasanban from Shikoku, Japan.  Wasanban is a very fine-grained sugar that is made from a thin sugar cane plant grown in Shikoku.  A friend in Japan sent it to me.  I have been using it to sprinkle on dessert crepes and cookies and to sweeten tea.  I love its delicate texture and sweet flavor.

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Best affogato (gelato with a shot of espresso): Poggio in Sausalito, California.  They dress their affogatos up with slices of toasted almonds and candied orange peel.  Exquisite!

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Best caramels: Jacques Genin in Paris, France.  These caramels melt in your mouth and dance on your tongue.  The flavors are rich and the texture is perfect.

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Best wine education experience: Les Printemps de Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France.  Was there in April for a tasting of grenache wines from several different soil types and microclimates within the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation.

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Best new artisanal salt: Jacobsen Hand-Harvested Pure Sea Salt from Netarts Bay, Oregon.  This salt has a wonderful crunch and a bright, clean flavor.  Excellent finishing salt.

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Best hamburger in San Francisco: 4505 Meats, San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.  Haven’t tried every hamburger in town yet, but this was my favorite of the ones that I tried this year.

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Looking forward to discovering what new “Bests” 2012 will bring!

Note: Top photo taken by Oliver Seidel and Nicky Stich of deliciousdays.com.

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