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.
Each chocolatier on our list produces signature melt-in-your-mouth chocolates, be it a single-source dark chocolate bar, a cream- or liqueur-filled bonbon, a praline, fruit dipped in chocolate, a truffle, fudge, or some other sinfully delicious treat. You will never regret indulging yourself with the confections produced by these premier chocolate-makers.
Stuart, Florida, located about 80 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, is already one charming small town to visit. Its highlight, though, is Castronovo Chocolate. This bean-to-bar small-batch chocolate shop has won several gold medals at the International Chocolate Awards for its lemon oil and lemon salt-infused white chocolate, Sierra Nevada 63 percent dark chocolate and Colombia mocha milk chocolate. The service here is attentive and as world-class as the bars themselves.
French Broad: This chocolatier opened in Asheville in 2007 and does a nice job of giving the chocolate lover a big truffle for the buck. These were some of the largest truffles we tasted. Their Buddha Collection’s vegan truffle was a favorite (composed of bitter sweet chocolate and coconut cream), lending the truffle a nice exotic edge. The Lavender and honey from the signature collection box—a milk chocolate ganache around a dark chocolate ganache blended with local honey and lavender—was the a delicious riff on lavender. The mole negro—housemade mole in dark chocolate and rolled in sesame seeds—great texture and spice.
Famous in New York and internationally as an uncompromising chocolatier, Jaques Torres makes gourmet chocolate chip cookies that are an elegant and rich version of everyone’s favorite cookie. Each cookie measures 5 inches in diameter. Jacques uses his rich, house blend 60% dark chocolate baking discs, which means this cookie skews to the adult tastes, or kids with a discerning palate.
Packaging: While we were fans of the chocolate, the packaging we're not too sure about. One taster described the box as something you would give to your Tinder Valentine (but given how popular Tinder is, is that a bad thing?). While that may be taking it a little far, the lace covered heart is definitely va-va-voom so while these chocolates may be perfect for your S.O. maybe don't give them to your grandma.
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.
Over the chocolate shop has an unmistakeable woody, rough powdery texture to it, much like actual cocoa powder, and about the same darkness of it. The hazelnut further adds to this coarse, almost woody feel. The coffee is just noticable enough to amplify the chocolate. This has a certain HEAT to it, like there's the tiniest bit of chili. It also lasts the longest of these four on my skin.
Larry Burdick makes exquisite delicious chocolate pieces at Burdick Chocolate, a small manufacturer at the western edge of New Hampshire, northwest of Keene and 70 miles from Nashua. Burdick does a great job of making a variety of ornate fine chocolates and presenting them well. The pieces in his assortment differ from each other well, so that one is entertained by the changes in flavor, style, and shape. The flavors range from intense chocolate to balanced to strong non-chocolate flavors, and the sweetness ranges from bitter to very sweet. Some flavors are familiar, and some are exotic.
After surveying the options, devil’s food seemed like the best choice for side-by-side testing. Since the key characteristic of a devil’s food cake is its richness, we figured we’d be able to judge more fairly by basing our test on the big brands’ most indulgent offerings. Next, the pros in our Test Kitchen baked each cake according to the directions on its package. To rid our bakers and testers of any preconceived biases, we prepared and compared each brand without its flashy packaging or marketing claims.
Woodhouse Chocolate has some very nice pieces; you should definitely visit when in St. Helena or even Napa. However, not every piece lives up to their price level, so be selective about your assortment. I found the shifting flavors of orange, cream, marzipan, and chocolate in the Fiori di Sicilia made it a fun experience, although its chocolate is a minor player. I particularly recommend the Pecan Caramel for an excellent pecan flavor, which mixes well with the chocolate, and the Peanut Croquant, again for a good medium-strong peanut flavor that mixes well with chocolate.
This month’s selection of Green Mountain Chocolates is amazing. My daughter (who gave me the membership as a Christmas gift) advised me that they are rated as one of the top three chocolates in the country. What could be better than sitting in the massage chair and enjoying wonderful chocolates? Thanks for getting the shipment to me in time for holiday relaxation and indulgence.
Theo Chocolate can be found at many higher-end markets but a visit to its shop guarantees a taste of hard-to-find flavors, like a bonbon filled with caramel that’s flavored by the smoky heat of a ghost chile. Theo, which ships its chocolates nationwide, uses only organic and certified fair-trade chocolate for all of its creations. 3400 Phinney Avenue N, Seattle, WA 98103
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 cookies are baked and shipped the same day, individually wrapped in a pack of eight. That’s right, 8 cookies = a box of four pounds of freshly-made cookies. City Cakes knows 8 big cookies may be a lot for some, but the individually packaged cookies freeze well and return to their fresh-baked goodness with just a few minutes in a 350 degree oven or a few seconds in the microwave.
Since she was a little girl, F&W’s Kate Krader, a New York City-native, has looked forward to this classic 1923 chocolate shop’s perfect homemade milk chocolate balls, wrapped in colorful foil, and available only during the holidays. “They remind me of my childhood,” says Krader. Another nostalgic favorite is the super-rich old-fashioned fudge that’s made daily. li-lacchocolates.com
We cut the chocolates into quarters so that more than one person could taste all of the offerings while also trying to avoid palate fatigue. While this may sound like a silly problem, it can be quite frustrating when your taste buds become overstimulated mid-tasting and fail you. To try to limit this, Saltines and club soda were set out to help tasters pace themselves.