Varsano’s looks like your average chocolate shop, so I was not expecting much, but their chocolates surprised me. Their uncommon white chocolate peanut butter cup was very nice, and the milk chocolate was good too. Marzipan is a favorite of mine, but only when it is elevated from a plain hard paste to something fluffier and more flavorful, and Varsano’s does that with an excellent chocolate-covered pistachio marzipan. I also liked the chocolate-covered graham cracker. The chocolate they use for covering their pieces is appealing. However, the buttercrunch tasted very weak to me, and the truffles did not impress me in 2006 as they did during my first visit.
The second question had an easy answer: Chocosphere, World Wide Chocolate and other very handy Web sites for people who care about cacao content. A carton from Chocosphere containing just over a half pound of Amedei bars and squares ran me $50, with shipping. The next day, the whole box was gone. In my defense, I’ve seen engagement rings that came in bigger boxes. I knew that I wanted more, but at $100 a pound it would be cheaper to fly to Italy and go to the factory myself, which is what I did. This might make me the first traveler in history who went to Tuscany to save money on a candy bar.
Considered to be some of the very best chocolate in all of New England, Lake Champlain Chocolate is a Burlington, Vermont, staple that carries wonderfully executed gourmet chocolates. Their hot chocolate is some of the most indulgent and delicious of its kind, and that luxurious texture and flavor of chocolate extends to all their handcrafted treats.
The Brownie Taste Test was around the corner, so the first thing I needed to do was to purchase the brownie mixes. I went to four stores, ensuring that I was getting a good feel for what was readily available at grocery stores around the country. I didn’t want to get specific kinds that some people couldn’t find in their local market. I wanted to test the most popular and recognizable brands.
For over 90 years, Esther Price Candies has been making the milkiest, most scrumptious chocolates in Ohio. Based out of Dayton, this local chain’s chocolate-covered caramels are their most popular product, but no trip to one of their seven locations across the state would be complete without picking up a box of their Buckeyes — it’s the most iconic dessert in Ohio, after all.
Stars with a blast of rich but DRY cocoa powder (the kind used in baking). This fades down into a less powdery and dry cocoa scent, where the vanilla begins to peek through. Unfortunately, the performance of this scent on my skin is fairly weak. It doesn't project off of me at all. Despite the other notes listed, I really only smell the cocoa powder.
Most chocolate makers know nothing about where their cacao comes from. A former consultant for a well-regarded European chocolate maker told me that until last year, the firm’s cacao buyer had never been to a plantation. Farmers sell to brokers who sell to bigger brokers; by the time the cacao reaches the factory, nobody knows its story. Sometimes this arrangement allows growers to mistreat workers without accountability. It also can allow them to get the same price for unripe, rotting or generally trashy beans—at their worst, these are known as "dogs and cats"—that they get for the good stuff.