Chef Michael Cappelli talks about his 40 years as a Hershey employee inside the Bear’s Den sports-themed restaurant in Hershey Lodge. Cappelli, who also runs Fire & Grain in Hershey Lodge, works the company’s signature chocolate into many food items such as scallops, barbecue sauce and salad dressing. “We’re constantly looking for new ways to incorporate chocolate into our menu,” he says. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
These chocolates are unusual, to say the least. Richard Donnelly likes to push the chocolate experience by combining its rich tones — he uses Belgian and French chocolate — with ingredients such as lavender, chipotle, saffron, cardamom, and Earl Grey tea. Such innovation helped Donnelly win the Best Artisan award at the prestigious Euro Chocolate Festival in Perugia, Italy, just ten years after he opened his shop. To maintain quality and ensure freshness, Donnelly produces no more than 50 pounds of chocolate a day. If you need a break from the exotic and unusual flavors, try Donnelly’s white chocolate macadamia nut or a honey vanilla caramel.
Known for iconic brands like Godiva Chocolatier and home to two of the world's largest chocolate factories, Callebaut and Puratos, Belgium has a rich chocolate history. Flanders, the Flemish region, is often called the "capital of chocolate," though the country at large holds more than 320 chocolate shops. Production began as early as 1635 when Belgium was occupied by the Spanish who introduced the New World product to the country.

Anna Shea Chocolates is an experience not to be missed. The flavors, ingredients, technique, and artistry are excellent, including an excellent color chart and playful names. The assortment includes a variety of flavors including fruit, cinnamon, liqueurs, and some playful flavors like red velvet and birthday cake. The assortment was light on nut flavors, which tend to be my favorites.


“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.”
Using natural ingredients like cream from a herd in central Illinois and local wildflower honey, this sweet shop produces hand-dipped truffles, soft honey-caramels and pillowy marshmallows with seasonal or year-round flavors. Inventive flavors include a goat cheese walnut truffle, a banana bourbon caramel, and champagne marshmallow. The shop’s European-style drinking hot chocolates mixes are made with ground chocolate, in offering a cup of full of “wow.” Order one to sip there—Salted Caramel and Mexican, Chai Tea or Hazelnut—and then pick up a canister to go.
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.

There is nothing conventional about Kate Weiser’s chocolate bars. They are painstakingly crafted, yes, but from there Weiser goes rogue, taking the grandest Venezuelan cocoa and adding açaí berries, or, in the ultimate rebellious act, going blonde with a caramel and sesame seed brittle bar. Her riotous, Jackson-Pollock-splatter-painted candy bars and bonbons are beautiful the way a punk rock romance might be—exuberant and irreverent in style and taste.
Bridgewater chocolate bars. (Big image.) Take classic chocolates, make them with good chocolate, and upgrade the design and execution a notch, and you have Bridgewater’s assorted chocolates. You can taste the quality and care that goes into these chocolates. I liked the peanut butter pieces quite a bit, as well as the Irish and almond toffees. Not all the pieces moved me, but you should try for yourself.
Dilettante claims confectionary descendance from Julius Rudolph Franzen, pastry chef to Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. I have only their truffles to judge them by. Unfortunately, I prefer other pieces with a greater variety of components and expression. Truffles are too often an overdose of chocolate and cream. Dilettante may move up on my list when I have more experience with their products, such as their gift box assortment.
Taza chocolate is a breakaway from your run-of-the-mill chocolate bar. The chocolate is round, for starters, and break into slices like a pizza, which is sort of different. The chocolate is also stone-ground, which offers a grittier, grainier feel than more heavily processed chocolate, and reminds you that what your eating came from something of the natural world.
If you still want a classic chocolate chip cookie, the Salty Sweet version uses thin slabs of chocolate that layer throughout giving each bite the perfect dough to chocolate ratio. But don’t stop there. We loved the Oatmeal Raisin cookies (“Best I’ve ever had” said one taster), the Dark Chocolate cookies (“Deeply chocolate without being too sweet’) and the Spicy Cinnamon cookies which absolutely live up to the name. Gluten-Free and Vegan cookie options are available too, and they are just as delicious as the classic versions.
The Tessieris work about 40 miles west of Florence, close to the Arno, and not far from Pisa; the Italian wine and food magazine Gambero Rosso has called this region the Chocolate Valley because of the concentration of chocolatiers who work there—among them Paul de Bondt, Roberto Catinari and Luca Mannori. The Chocolate Valley is not nearly as famous as other parts of Tuscany. For me, this only increased its allure. While other tourists inched through the vineyards of Chianti staring at the exhaust pipe of the rental car just ahead, I would be lazily bobbing along in a rowboat, dipping pieces of bread over the side into the world’s biggest fondue.
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.

This Australian bean-to-bar chocolate maker uses only the best single-origin cacao beans. Cicada’s expertise marries the notes of red fruit with undertones of sweet caramel that are both natural to the cacao. A little added cocoa butter to increase the smooth factor, a touch of raw sugar, and the enticing magic of the Madagascan bourbon vanilla bean make the best chocolate bar you could possibly find: Their 73 percent bar, sourced from the Somia plantation in the Sambirano Valley of northern Madagascar, is ultimate bliss in the form of a chocolate bar. Cicada plans to open a bigger and better factory and shop soon. Bars sold in Sydney at The Rocks Markets and Bondi farmers markets.
Pastry chef Christopher Elbow worked at the American Restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, until the demand for his chocolate petits fours convinced him to launch his own candy business in 2003. His beautiful hand-painted chocolates come in creative flavors like bananas Foster and caramel apple. Elbow also makes fantastic chocolate bars, including the favorite among F&W editors, No. 6 Dark Rocks, made with dark chocolate and popping candy. elbowchocolates.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.

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