You've seen their chocolates at your local big-box retailer, but did you know you can build your own customized box of chocolates via the Russell Stover website? Although their selection is not gourmet or exotic, shoppers looking for a traditional variety of chocolates will find what they want with Russell Stover, which includes the well-known Whitman brand as well.
High-quality chocolate, made from the best cacao beans, is the first step. Next is the filling. When a confectioner makes the conscious decision to make high-quality chocolates, they forgo preservatives and artificial flavors and use natural fruit, nuts, butters, spices and herbs. The end result is something that isn’t as shelf stable as Russell Stover or other drugstore candies. Preservatives in those drugstore offerings affect the flavor of the chocolates. When you pit the long-life brands to more perishable high-end chocolates in a blind taste test, the differences are glaringly clear.
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.
Harper Macaw is a true chocolate factory in the heart of Washington, D.C. When you walk through their doors, you’ll find artisanal chocolate bars made with beans from three specific Brazilian cacao farms. The blended bars bring out the best flavors from each cacao bean, but what makes this shop distinctive is its more whimsical offerings, including politically-inspired bars and a grapefruit soda chocolate, complete with carbonated sugar.
Harper Macaw is a true chocolate factory in the heart of Washington, D.C. When you walk through their doors, you’ll find artisanal chocolate bars made with beans from three specific Brazilian cacao farms. The blended bars bring out the best flavors from each cacao bean, but what makes this shop distinctive is its more whimsical offerings, including politically-inspired bars and a grapefruit soda chocolate, complete with carbonated sugar.
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.
When I spoke with Eric Case of Valrhona Chocolate, he made a point to differentiate filled chocolates from chocolate bars: “Chocolate and chocolates. Chocolate is something made from a bean, to give to someone that then creates a bonbon, or a confection, or a candy. ‘Chocolates’ are all kinds of things that happen to use chocolate in the ingredients, but they also have marzipan, toffee, nuts, or fruit.” Because of these additions, the shelf life of a quality box of chocolates is (generally) much shorter than that of a bar.

The most famous Venezuelan cacao of all comes from Chuao. The trees of Chuao are shielded by mountains from all but the warm Caribbean breezes; the soil is naturally irrigated by three cascading rivers. Doutre-Roussel calls the region “one of the jewels of the earth.” Besides the microclimate, Chuao has centuries-old traditions of harvesting and preparing cacao. First it’s fermented to develop the compounds that will later blossom into rich aromatics, then it’s laid out on the parvis in front of the village church to dry slowly in the sun. Because the farmers worked together as a cooperative, Chuao is one of the only places where a chocolate maker could buy, at one stroke, 9 to 10 tons of uniformly excellent cacao. Until recently, that chocolate maker was Valrhona. Today every last kilo of cacao from Chuao goes to Amedei.


The Hershey Story Museum in downtown Hershey tells the story of Milton S. Hershey’s initial struggles with building a business before the chocolate-bar king put it all together. Visitors can browse the extensive educational displays, which feature historical photos and early advertising examples of Hershey’s chocolate products. The museum also offers a tasting bar and the Chocolate Lab, where visitors can craft a bar and learn how cocoa beans are transformed into confections. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY


American consumers are expected to spend an astonishing $1.8 billion-plus on candy for the holiday this year, and about 75% of that will be on chocolate. Mass-market confectioners like Russell Stover, in business since 1923, will account for most of the sales. (The company, which also owns the Whitman’s brand, is the largest boxed-candy manufacturer in America.) Most smaller chocolate shops prepare special Valentine’s Day assortments and/or other chocolate-related gifts, though, and these tend to offer greater variety and utilize better-quality chocolate.
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.
Among all of the tested chocolates, the Recchiuti come in the most intriguing shapes and designs. No two chocolates are the same. Some have intricate patterns, while others look like little sculptures. This contrasted sharply with the John and Kira’s box, filled with 15 squares of the same shape, size, and texture (a little monotonous for a romantic gift).

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.


Cookie Love’s gourmet cookie flavors include the classics like Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal with dried Cranberries, but you’ll also be tempted by Mocha Chocolate Chip, or how about their heartiest cookie named Enduring Love that combines organic coconut with almonds, oatmeal, chocolate chips and dried cranberries. With loyal customers across the country and rave reviews, Vermont Cookie Love is the place to order rich, all natural cookies and frozen cookie dough for lovers of just-out-of-the-oven home baked cookies.

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.
×