Woodhouse Chocolate ($50 for 24 pieces), a Napa Valley-based chocolatier, was the number one pick over at Consumer Reports. The chocolates are colored with only natural chocolate colors in shades of brown and white, the assortment nestled in robin’s egg blue crinkle cups and boxes. With one first place and one third place vote, it didn’t make a big impression with the first panel of tasters. The one thing it had going for it, though, was that it didn’t get any last place votes.
Co-owners Corey and David Menkes spend more time sourcing their chocolate than molding it, ensuring the beans they use come from farms that practice sustainable agriculture and pay their workers fair wages. Today, their operation produces nearly 3,000 bars each month, from simple, barely sweetened single-origin varieties to subtly flavored sweets, like a bar molded with crisp amaranth. A white chocolate bar cleanly flavored with matcha promises a light caffeine buzz. 2835 South Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
All-Around Favorite: Chocolopolis: The defining difference between these chocolates and others we tasted was the utterly complex and rich ganache inside each different truffle. Chocolopolis has one of the largest collections of craft chocolate bars in the world—many of which they incorporate into their truffles. The Champions Box (my favorite) features all of their award-winning truffles. Lacquered and glossy, each truffle delivers serious taste, (think lemon-lavender white chocolate or the Madagascar dark chocolate). The top taste was the Dominican Republic House Blend truffle, made from their proprietary blend of select Dominican Republic couvertures (cacao). Chocolopolis founder Lauren Adler notes, “I’d compare our style of confections to the French tradition, where it’s really about the quality and the flavor of the chocolate.” Her caramel cups dusted with a cluster of sea salt are worth a bite too.
These Wockenfuss artisan truffles are not just absolutely delicious, they’re also gorgeously crafted. There are 12 truffles in the box, each with unique fillings, made with dark chocolate and milk chocolate. The onyl complaint you’ll have with these gourmet chocolates is that they are so beautifully decorated you’ll find it difficult to actually eat them.
Molly is a freelance journalist and social media consultant with degrees in international affairs and public relations. As social media consultant to the Western Balkans over the past four years, Molly divides her time between the American South and Zagreb, Croatia. She has written for OZY, Fodor's Travel, Lonely Planet and Teen Vogue among others while reporting from North America, Europe and the Middle East. Her work can be found at www.mmollyharris.com.
Along with the milk and dark bars, there are bite-sized ChocoPods, drinking chocolates, bonbons and truffles. For a real textural experience, try the vegan-friendly Ooh Ahh Almond bar. It blends dark chocolate and crunchy almonds that have been kettle-cooked in sea salt and sugar. Or heat things up with the Spicy Maya bar that fuses cayenne and pasilla chile with creamy dark chocolate. If you want to get in on the latest Chuao flavor, then you have to try Strawberry Waffle Wild, a mix of crunchy waffle bits, strawberries and milk chocolate.
We knew there was a word for what the look and taste of the gourmet cookies from 1812 House made us feel, so we got busy Googling and we think we found it: Hiraeth. Hiraeth is a Welch word that is tough to translate but it expresses that feeling of longing and nostalgia that borders on homesickness for a time or place you can no longer return to. That’s the kind of emotional time travel we had when we unboxed our cookies from 1812 House. These are timeless, classic cookies made with real butter and vanilla and handmade in small batches. Eating one is like stepping back in time, a pleasure mixed with nostalgia.
The 36-piece assortment I ordered from William Dean Chocolates contained a broad selection of chocolates and flavors, from the familiar peanut butter or even childhood favorite peanut butter and jelly, to fine lavender or port and plum. The Port and Plum was one of my favorites of the box. The flavors interplayed nicely and had some depth. The Mexican Mango was a very nice mango puree with a little bit of spiceness. The PB Krunch had a strong peanut flavor roasted just right. The WD 64%, a straight chocolate piece, was another of my favorites.
John Scharffenberger, already a big name in the wine world, decided in 1997 to try his hand at artisanal chocolate-making. Using a vintage German melangeur — a machine that slowly grinds cacao beans into a chocolate liquor — and personally sampling beans from more than 150 international cacao farms, he and partner Robert Steinberg sought to bring traditional European chocolate craftsmanship to the States, proudly emphasizing cacao content on the bars' labels — a first for American chocolatiers. The San Francisco team also became the first American bean-to-bar manufacturer in 50 years. Now a member of the Hershey family, Scharffen Berger produces a modest but exquisite selection of bars and tasting squares sold at stores like Whole Foods including a crunchy Milk Chocolate Bar with Sea Salted Almonds.
You can’t really make a bad choice at Boise’s The Chocolat Bar. Since 2004, this shop has been using local and organic products to allow the lusciousness of chocolate shine through. The top highlight at this shop is the Nipples of Venus truffle, which features dark chocolate ganache topped with white chocolate and Madagascar vanilla with a tiny dot of white chocolate on top. The barks are also worth traveling to Idaho for, with unique combinations like red chili pistachio and lemon lavender almond.
MarieBelle’s chocolates have fun designs, but the flavors did almost nothing for me. The Swiss chocolate is a thin shell around the fillings and contributed little to the taste. Good ingredients were used, and the flavors, when I could detect them, were well done. However, even pieces I would expect to have prominent flavors, like the Pineapple or Mandarin, were weak. The Spices piece was good, and the Hazelnut Praline was good except for the slightness of the flavor. I could not recommend these at half the price, let alone the $100/lb. charged.
There is something for everyone on this list of chocolate companies. Whether you prefer indie chocolatiers like La Maison Du Chocolate in New York and Norman Love Confections in Naples, FL; European chocolate makers with a rich history like Teuscher in Zurich, Switzerland; more recently popular brands like Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker in Berkeley, CA, or tried-and-true standbys like Hershey's and Godiva, it's hard to go wrong with any of the chocolate makers on this list. Which company makes your favorite chocolates?
If you want to try a wide assortment of fine European chocolates for little more than the price of a basic Russel Stover box, Merci’s assortment is a great option. This box of twenty small bars comes with six varieties – milk chocolate, coffee and cream, hazelnut almond, hazelnut cream, dark mousse, and praline cream. Each bar is individually wrapped for easy eating, making this offering from the German brand a tasty and affordable option for those just entering the world of high-end European chocolate.
Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop is the definition of “off the beaten path.” You won’t find a website for this 420-square-foot shop in Madrid, New Mexico, but if you visit, you’ll find an ever-rotating selection of uniquely flavored chocolates. Mixtures like dark chocolate with pink peppercorns, lavender, lemongrass and merlot salt sound crazy, but chocolatier Harvey Shugarman makes it work.
Something was also lost in presentation. The uniformity of the pieces made for a bland appearance. An open box showed an array of blocks. The nearly identical undecorated chocolates lacked the attractiveness of of other chocolatiers’ colorful pieces with diverse shapes and decorations. And, while creative effort has clearly gone into zChocolat’s collection, I found the pieces pleasant but not compelling.
Anna Shea Chocolates is an experience not to be missed. The flavors, ingredients, technique, and artistry are excellent, including an excellent color chart and playful names. The assortment includes a variety of flavors including fruit, cinnamon, liqueurs, and some playful flavors like red velvet and birthday cake. The assortment was light on nut flavors, which tend to be my favorites.