Nandy’s Candy is a small, family-owned business and a much-beloved Jackson, Mississippi, institution. The shop is perhaps best known for chocolate-covered strawberries, which are dipped by hand as you order them. Other fun confections, such as chocolate-dipped Oreos, chocolate popcorn and fudge, will fulfill your chocolate cravings, no matter what form they take.
Even today, the chocolate trade looks a lot like it did in colonial days: Raw materials bought at generally low prices in the tropics are shipped to the developed world and turned into a luxury product. Today, three of the largest importers of cacao to America are fighting a lawsuit filed by a human rights group claiming that they buy beans harvested by child slaves, mostly in the nation of Ivory Coast. Several journalists have contended that the extent of slavery in the cacao industry has been overblown, but it’s hardly comforting to hear that the number of slaves who helped make your afternoon snack has been exaggerated. Without doubt, adults and children on some cacao farms, particularly in West Africa, perform demanding, exhausting work for awful pay.
All the while, I’d been looking at the red heart-shaped objects that were floating in the two big jars. I kept thinking about the Aztecs. At last I asked Alessio what they were. “Cacao pods,” he said. “In formaldehyde so they do not dry up.” The one off in a corner behind the door was a unique Venezuelan variety called Porcelana. The other, placed on a low table next to all the trays of chocolate, gleamed and glistened like a trophy. That one was Venezuelan too, Alessio said with a smile. It came from Chuao.
Review: Let's just say you get what you pay for and since you'll have to shell out top dollar ($50 to be exact) for these babies, we can assure you, they're good. However, we do have to point out that they are tasty, but not amazing. One taster described one of the Godiva's as "[feeling] like a hug, a milky embrace" while another brought things back to earth with "the special edition truffle, not so special." Don't worry, while not every piece is delectable, there are some definite stand outs, so they're worth the extra dough.
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For the chocolate purist, or anyone looking for the perfect corporate gift, we think Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is a great premium choice. The flavors are subtle enough to really let the chocolate shine. The packaging, reminiscent of brown pebbled leather, is understated and innocuous enough to gift for professional reasons. Although these chocolates are incredibly smooth and slightly less sweet than the Michel Cluizel, the overall flavor profile isn’t quite as daring as those in the Recchiuti box and might not provide the same sensory adventure as our main pick. We also think the assortments available online are a little big for a Valentine’s gift (although you can purchase smaller boxes in their stores).
The 97-year-old chocolatier known for it’s eye-popping displays of bon bons is a favorite of the Belgian royal family. But its high-class tablets, packaged in charming, pastel boxes, are worthy of a taste as well. Perhaps most worthy is Mary's 72 percent dark chocolate bar made with beans from the equatorial (and volcanic) African island of São Tomé. All ten of its fanciful shops are in Belgium except one, which is in Oakwood, Ohio.
The Good & Evil bar is made with 72 percent Peruvian Nacional Cacao, allegedly the rarest cocoa bean in existence. Master chocolatier Christopher Curtin of Éclat Chocolate chose only the Premier Cru Superieur beans from the first harvest on a remote farm in Peru. Next, the organic Fair Trade beans traveled to Switzerland, where they were processed in an antique conching machine. We enjoyed its rich taste, cocoa nib-crunch and sophisticated aftertaste. Just be warned that the Good & Evil bar is available in very limited quantities, so score some while you can.