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.
Launched in 2006, the Seattle-based Theo Chocolate was the first chocolate manufacturer in the US to be both 100 percent organic and fair-trade. (The Fair Trade Certificate goes only to eco-friendly products made by workers who are paid enough to cover their basic needs and reinvest in their operations.) Theo’s conscientious chocolates are delicious: nuanced and intense, like dark, single-origin bars from nations such as Ghana and Madagascar. Founder Joseph Whinney is so passionate about chocolate that he hired a biologist to genetically map Theo’s beans. Not all of Theo’s endeavors are so serious: 3,400 Phinney bars, named for the factory’s street address, come in whimsical flavors like the salty-sweet Bread and Chocolate ($7), featuring dark chocolate mixed with bread crumbs; it’s perfect with afternoon coffee. theochocolate.com
Run by master chocolatier Jin Caldwerll, Las Vegas’s JinJu Chocolates uses fresh, seasonal and local ingredients to craft their artisan chocolates. Highlights at this Nevada-based mom-and-pop shop include their sea salted caramels (which come in a variety of flavors, including lemon, chipotle cinnamon and espresso) and the Fortunato No. 4 Chocolate Bar, a single-origin Peruvian chocolate that contains multitudes you can only dream of.
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Garrison Confections’s main attraction is the Seasonal Collection, which features twelve new flavors about every three months. Generally I like new experiences, so that is fine by me, but do not get attached, because your favorite piece will vanish. I tried the collection in April 2007 and was impressed by some pieces, notably the fruit patés. The Pabana was particularly nice, good flavors blended well, including a novel fruit flavor. The 91% was also very nice, unusual for me since I generally like more than chocolate alone. The pieces with alcohol were less appealing to me, as usual. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie was a bit piquant with a nice balance. The Coffee Almond Praline started well but finished weakly.
Top chocolatiers generally work with couverture (first-rate chocolate containing a high percentage of cocoa butter) to make their creations, versus fresh cocoa beans, although an increasing number now experiment with bean to bar. Some makers even grow their own cacao beans. Direct contact between growers and makers is the best-case scenario for sustainable, or at the very least fair trade, chocolate.
Do you agree with the Best Brownie Mix winner? I would love to hear your favorites. What brownie mix do you stand by? I have to admit that I have always loved Ghirardelli and Betty Crocker Triple Chunk so I wasn’t too surprised. The beauty of it is that I had 20 willing judges who didn’t confer with each other. There were definitely clear-cut winners.
Connecticut is apparently so well known for its chocolate shops that it has a bona fide tour route for sweet confections called the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. So how does Bridgewater Chocolate in West Hartford stand apart from the crowd? Its stunning packaging, for one. But the chocolate tortels, truffles and dark chocolate-covered cherries on a milk chocolate heart are luxurious and rich.

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