Because they’re meant to be gifted, I presented the chocolates in their boxes, but without the brand names showing. We felt that the presentation should be a factor in judging. We had a very strict rule against calling out a brand to the rest of the group if someone recognized the packaging. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue—no one had a clue about what was what during the tasting.
Chocolat Céleste is a mixed bag; I have enjoyed some pieces but not all (relative to experienced expected for the price), and prices have escalated. I suggest the Grand Cru collection. Although pricey, $139/lb. in 2012, it is a rare opportunity to taste criollo (a type of cacao, from which chocolate is made). I enjoyed the criollo pieces in the collection. They should be approached as a tasting experience: Cleanse your palate with water, smell, taste, let the chocolate dissolve, and take the time to experience it. The collection also has non-criollo pieces that I found a bit flat and dry compared to the criollo.
In 2005, when John Grahm took over this mid-century Los Angeles shop where Marilyn Monroe once purchased her sweets, he fashioned it into an edgy and modern version of Old Hollywood elegance. Partnering with designer Kelly Wearstler, Grahm created a line of stunning bars covered in edible crystal, filled with tortilla chips and cayenne pepper, and flavored with balsamic vinegar. But tradition still rules at Compartés, so everything is handmade and people (not machines) do the packaging.
Artist Christine Sarioz started working with chocolate years ago, but only opened her first shop this year. Molded chocolates, filled with dense, deep chocolate ganache or pistachio praline, look like elegant miniature children’s building blocks, perhaps in a set designed to honor Brutalist architecture; some are gilded in metallic dust for extra sparkle. Her signature item is a hazelnut praline-filled chocolate bar: Shiny, snappy, and wrapped in gold paper, it’s what Wonka would peddle if he’d gone to design school. 9414 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
Chocolate doesn’t get any fresher than Jouvay, perfected by the Grenada Cocoa Farmers Cooperative based at the rural Diamond Chocolate Factory. The idea was to partner with local farmers working right in the ecosystem to grow the best quality beans. While visiting the 18th-century factory inside a converted rum distillery built by French monks, see the cocoa beans drying on trays under the Caribbean sun. Growers employ a centuries-old French tradition of “walking” the beans—turning them gently by walking over the shells, which are later roasted and removed. Inside the small tasting room, sample each chocolate bar flavor, such as ginger and cocoa nibs. Factory and farm in Victoria, Grenada.
Hershey’s Chocolate World is one of the top attractions in Hershey. Visitors can take a free tour to see how cocoa beans are transformed into Hershey’s chocolate. They also can make their own candy bar, enjoy a chocolate tasting session, tour the town of Hershey via trolley, solve a gooey whodunit in the 4D Chocolate Mystery attraction and shop at one of the largest candy stores around. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Katalin Csiszar and her husband, Zsolt Szabad, began the award-winning Rozsavolgyi in their home in Budapest in 2004. They source beans from Venezuela growers, and roast them very lightly to preserve their true flavors. Only organic cane sugar and a small amount of of cocoa butter goes in before they are formed into intricate patterns meant to mimic fireplace tiles, and wrapped by hand in paper that looks like your chic grandma’s vintage silk scarf. Purists rave about their Criollo and Trincheras bars, but those who like surprises go for inclusions like olives and bread, and flavors of Japanese matcha, and Indian masala spices.
At their Brooklyn, New York, factory, the bearded brothers Rick and Michael Mast create fantastic single-origin dark chocolate bars that are wrapped in custom-printed paper and named after the sources of the cacao beans, such as Papua New Guinea, Moho River, Sambirano Valley, and La Red de Guaconejo. “They’re interesting, and certainly showcase the tangy, tropical, terroir-driven flavors of chocolate,” says F&W’s Kristin Donnelly. mastbrothers.com
K’s 5-star review: Nama grand mariner and Nama champagne: rich and delicious. Absolutely. Remind me of Burdick's Pave, which are one of my absolute favorites. The Nama are a better value -- more pieces with the benefit of a handy prong to keep all the cocoa dusted pieces from feather off on your fingers. Boxes run $18.00 each as of 4/2014. Potato chips: really didn't click. Tasted greasy and didn't flatter either -- more guilt and less pleasure.
You can never have too many choices when it comes to chocolate. This Belgian chocolate box provides an amazing assortment of dark, milk, and white chocolate in an elegant gold box with a bow on top. You'll get 19 chocolate pieces that include favorites like 50 percent dark demitasse, chocolate hazelnut praline, praline crescents, and coconut macaroons covered in dark chocolate. If 19 pieces simply aren't enough to satisfy your taste buds, you can trade up for a 140-piece box (or one of the many sizes in between).
At 255 years old, this candy shop on Rue du Faubourg-Montmatre is the oldest in Paris, and luck for everyone who visits, it’s precious façade is historically landmarked and it’s interior lovingly preserved. On the shelves at À La Mère de Famille sit sweets and treats of all kinds, including bars of 100 percent pure origin Venezuelan cocoa. Surprisingly melty and vibrantly aromatic, the plain chocolate is smooth, while the inclusion bars are beautifully strewn by hand with whole hazelnuts, almonds, and tidy little chunks of candied ginger.
The makers were recently crowned the best of the best at the International Chocolate Awards, the biggest and most comprehensive global competition in the world. Soma Chocolatemaker, based in Toronto, was named best chocolate maker in the world for its dark milk chocolate bar made with cocoa beans from Guasare, Venezuela. Omnom Chocolate from Reykjavik, Iceland, took parallel honors for its milk chocolate bar featuring Icelandic milk powder and cocoa from Nicaragua.
Chocolate with coriander and fennel? It all started in 1994 when Italian chocolatier Valter Bovetti established a factory in Aubazine, France. There he debuted his trademark chocolate candies shaped as nails and tools. In 2006, Bovetti and five fellow chocolate-makers visited Sao Tome, an African island in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Gabon. The island was called the “chocolate island,” which inspired them to found a fair trade association named Roca Cacao. The organization bought harvesting equipment for twelve plantations and ensured a living wage for their 120 employees. Beans from the site of the first cacao plantation in Africa, go into Bovetti’s high-quality Single Origin bars.
Alexandra Whisnant, a Boston native, trained at Le Cordon Bleu and Ladurée in Paris before she opened her chocolate business. Its name means “spoiled like girls,” so it’s no surprise that Whisnant doesn’t cut any corners while making her delicate treats. She starts a new batch of pralines or infused ganaches at the beginning of each week, and they sell out by week’s end. Flavors vary weekly, with honey-walnut praline, blackberry ganache, chocolate-mint (made from mint from her aunt’s garden), and whiskey-infused truffles just some of the latest confections to come off of Whisnant’s chocolate dipping table. Call for the day’s offerings. Shipping is limited. Somerville, MA
You’ll find the best chocolate shop in Georgia at the Krog Street Market in Atlanta. Xocolatl makes single-origin bean-to-bar chocolates that are sustainably and ethically sourced from Peru, Madagascar, Nicaragua and beyond. Their confections are presented in beautiful, simple paper, but the flavors inside are anything but basic. Xocolatl’s best-selling chocolates include the Kissed Mermaids (dark coconut milk chocolate with vanilla-infused sea salt and crunchy cacao nibs sprinkled) and Go Nuts (dark chocolate with dry-roasted almonds and vanilla-infused sea salt), which are decadent and delightful.
Truffles appear a few times on any gourmet chocolate list and many chocoholics consider them to be a standard for the gourmet category. These truffles are made by Miami Beach and it’s clear they’ve put a lot of thought into both taste and presentation. They use ingredients of the highest quality in each truffle and to top off the great taste they also have a variety of service options. Consumers can choose various preparation methods from kosher to vegan so that even those with dietary restrictions don’t have to miss out on great gourmet taste. To top everything off, the price for these truffles is pleasantly average.
Valrhona has been creating exceptional gourmet chocolate since 1922, with cocoa beans purchased directly from premier plantations in South America, the Caribbean, and Pacific regions. The chocolate, made in the French style, comes in a variety of bars. Valrhona was one of the first chocolatiers to describe its chocolate like wine, labeling creations as grand cru, single origins, single estate, and vintage chocolate from bean to bar. In 2008, it introduced spicy, salty Xocopili.
For their new chocolate line, che Thomas Keller and olive oil icon Armando Manni are ratcheting up the intrinsic health benefits of cocoa beans and EVOO. The chocolate is made according to the same "live" principles Manni designed for his cultish oils--a method developed with the University of Florence to minimize heat exposure and retain antioxidants throughout processing. The two tapped former pastry chef Chi Bui (Daniel, Le Bernardin) to perfect the blockbuster bars, which double down on the antioxidant power with a finishing hit of Manni oil. The first release includes three bars, from Madagascar, Peru and Ecuador ($14.95); the latter is our favorite--uniquely floral, with a lush, velvety texture. williams-sonoma.com
Owned by Mondelez international, Cadbury (formerly known as Cadbury’s) is a multinational British confectionary and the second largest confectionary brand in the world after Wrigley’s. Headquartered in Uxbridge, West London, the brand operates in 50 countries around the world and is famous for their Dairy Milk, Creme Egg and Roses selection boxes. The company is the countries most successful exports since 1824.
Thanks to its classic commercial featuring a bunny clucking like a chicken while laying chocolate eggs, Cadbury is most popular during the Easter season. Most of us are familiar with its chocolate eggs and bunnies, but Cadbury makes dozens of different chocolate products that make it one of the most recognized chocolate brands on Earth all year long.
“Wow,” said Krader, biting into one of the company’s flat, square truffles. “This is definitely the chocolate with the most distinct point of view.” By that, she meant that it had perhaps the most unusual flavor of the bunch, with distinctly fruity notes. “This is from someone who’s redefining what truffles can be,” she said. “The flavorings don't punch you in the face, and it tastes like it was just made.” In other words: advanced chocolatiering. “There’s a sophistication about them,” she said. “Truffle neophytes might want something more general.”