The Pistachio Marzipan and Bandol Breeze (apricot pâte de fruit and marzipan) were too weak for my taste, but most of Jacques Torres’ pieces had both good non-chocolate and chocolate flavors. The Golden Espresso was another very good piece. Mom’s Chocolate Peanut Brittle did not quite work for me, but Grandma’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch was excellent, with a great roasted peanuts flavor and complementing chocolate. In spite of my few quibbles I, most of Torres’ pieces are done to near perfection, and I would class Torres with Burdick. Both are near the same quality. Burdick uses a bit more exotic flavors while Torres takes familiar flavors to great heights.
Hailing from France’s Rhône Valley, Valrhona is considered the Rolls Royce of chocolate. Depicting how fine the French taste is, Valrhona has been crafting couvertures since 1922. Valrhona is known for creating a range of unique and recognizable aromatic profiles by perfecting techniques for enhancing the flavor of rare cocoa beans that are directly bought from the plantations in South America, Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean.
This Italian chocolatier specializes in hazelnut-flavored chocolate pralines, combining a hazelnut chocolate cream and a whole hazelnut with a crisp chocolate shell in either milk or dark chocolate. It’s a decadent chocolate experience, but with a complexity and mild bitterness from the hazelnut that makes it a more adult experience. Perfect for nut lovers.
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.
#1: Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix — It was neck and neck to the very end. I tallied up the very last judge’s sheet and this Ghirardelli brownie mix won by 1.5 points. Reviewers said it had a melt-in-your-mouth chewy texture and had phenomenal chocolate flavor. They loved the addition of chocolate chips to give authentic richness. The high-quality Ghirardelli chocolate put this brownie mix over the top.
The Richart family started making gourmet chocolates and French macarons in Lyon, France in 1925 and has consequently gone on to become one of the world’s best chocolate brands. The chocolatier has gained highly coveted accolades for his work: National Geographic’s Inside Travel named him one of the world’s top chocolatiers, and has been awarded the Ruban Bleu, France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, a total of seven times.
The Mint Chocolate Cookie had good flavors, but I did not find the composition as compelling as in the other pieces. It seemed a little incohesive, although the components were good. The Raspberry Rose was not as strong as other pieces but was still excellent. The pieces were in thin shells of white, milk, or dark chocolate. All of the shells contributed good flavors, but I might like a little more of them.
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.
One of the oldest candy businesses in the country, Schimpff’s Confectionary in Jeffersonville, Indiana, is half chocolate shop, half museum, which makes it a charming tourist destination on its own. Beyond the collection of candy-making history here, the chocolates are old-fashioned and scrumptious. Don’t leave without picking up some caramel-covered marshmallows, which are called “mojeskas” in this part of the country.
La Chatelaine Chocolat Co: Located in, of all places, Bozeman Montana, owners JP Wlady Grochowski and Shannon Hughes Grochowski are most inspired by nature. Says Shannon, “We walk through a small forest each day to work, and feel inspired each time, whether it’s the color of the leaves, deep green of the spruces or the scent of sage, or the local snow-capped Bridger Mountains. We also find a lot of inspiration in France, where we spend each summer with our children and Wlady's maman and cousins.” Top taste was the Absinthe in dark chocolate ganache and the dark and rich Arriba truffle —composed of 72% dark chocolate made from Forestero beans of Arriba origin.
Vosges ($40 for 16 pieces) is famous for round truffles with exotic, unexpected combinations like wasabi with black sesame and even Taleggio cheese with walnuts. Their bacon bar is beloved by many people we talked to, but their assorted chocolates weren’t as well received. Funniest comment: “Cumin?? That’s a mean trick!” Vosges are available in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
At this year’s tasting, we again liked Michel Cluizel’s well-executed, classic fillings. This box is sure to please anyone with an affinity for old-style French chocolates. They are the sweetest of our top picks, but they are not as nuanced as those from Recchiuti and lack whimsical flavor combinations (which might be a bonus for some palates). We also found this assortment, dominated by simple squares and circles, less visually exciting than the Recchiuti’s range of unexpected shapes. But for the traditionalist, this box might be just perfect.
For this year’s update, I brought in 11 brands, including our 2014 picks. We took the past year’s suggestions from our Wirecutter commenters and input from other Wirecutter staffers. In the end, we tasted Jacques Torres, Neuhaus, Francois Payard, Maison du Chocolat, Tumbador, Leonidas, Fran's, and John and Kira’s against our 2014 picks, Christopher Elbow, Recchiuti, and Michel Cluizel.
Planète Chocolat sells most of their chocolates in prepared boxes, so I could not pick out my preferences. Some pieces, mostly truffles, are available separately. The pieces in the box I got had textured tops that I could not match up with the diagram, so I could not tell what was what. Planète Chocolat’s chocolates look fancy, but that does not make them taste fancy, and I would rather pay for taste than looks.
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.
Chocolate Visions makes excellent chocolates with nice flavors. I tried The Works Collection and generally enjoyed both the pieces with familiar flavors and those with novel combinations. The Hazelnut Trio had an unusual structure that showcases its familiar flavors well. The spice was distinct in the Tarragon, quite unusual, and worked well with the chocolate.
French Broad Chocolate is a must-try shop located in Asheville, North Carolina. It has chocolates that have won numerous awards at the International Chocolate Awards and Good Food Awards. The confections, which range from single-source bars to vegan lemongrass and ginger truffles, are made with local ingredients and sustainable, wholesome cacao beans.
We saved the biggest for last. Levain’s gourmet cookies push the limits of the definition of cookie. They have been described as “Molten Cookie Dough” for their barely baked middles that ooze with warm, sweet goodness. Weighing in at 6 ounces each they are the size of generous muffin tops. Each flavor is rich, buttery, super-decadent. We had the fun of standing in line to enter the teeny tiny New York store to order one of each flavor—Chocolate Chip Walnut, Oatmeal Raisin, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. I was lucky to have a posse of eager tasters with me. The edges have a slightly crisp cookie texture that gives way to an interior of cookie/cake-y crumb. The cookie’s center is a barely baked oooey goooey celebration of sweet. This is not a cookie for the faint of heart.
People love chocolate. People love bacon. Vosges founder Katrina Markoff decided to marry the two, and Mo's Bacon Candy Bars were born. Choco-bacon pancake mix, truffles and caramel toffees soon followed, putting the Chicago-based company on the map. The pioneer in experimental chocolate who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris combines our favorite candy with curry for her Naga bar, and ginger, wasabi and black sesame seeds for the Black Pearl Bar. You can find her whimsical recipes at boutiques in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City and Chicago.
The 36-piece assortment I ordered from William Dean Chocolates contained a broad selection of chocolates and flavors, from the familiar peanut butter or even childhood favorite peanut butter and jelly, to fine lavender or port and plum. The Port and Plum was one of my favorites of the box. The flavors interplayed nicely and had some depth. The Mexican Mango was a very nice mango puree with a little bit of spiceness. The PB Krunch had a strong peanut flavor roasted just right. The WD 64%, a straight chocolate piece, was another of my favorites.
With five café locations—including one at their factory—this chocolate company handcrafts signature treats that taste exquisite but also look exceptional. Their assortment of bars pep up traditional milk or dark choices with options like a Milk Chocolate Crispy Orange Brulee Bar, Dark Chocolate Espresso Bean, or even the Dark Chocolate Raspberry and Fennel Bark. The gourmet dark, milk and ivory truffles feature fun sweets like the Strawberry or Raspberry Love Bug and Cookies and Cream Cone. Caramels and toffees are touched with sea salt or vanilla, and gourmet hot cocoa mixes go from simple to spicy. A specialty line of liqueur truffles are derived from Oregon’s finest craft distillers. Plus, their tumbled chocolate balls taste of blueberry, hazelnuts, sea salt caramel and even a German roasted malted wheat berry used in beer making.
For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
It’s no longer difficult to find beautifully decorated chocolates, sea-salted caramels, or delicately scented truffles: Nearly every major city in the U.S. is now home to a shop offering single-origin chocolate bars or bonbons filled with spiked ganache and coated in paint swipes of color. Others use local fruit, fresh herbs, spices, nuts, coffee, tea, or other essences to enhance each chocolate variety, encouraging flavors to dance on the tongue as they melt.
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.
A mural of Milton S. Hershey adorns The Hershey Story Museum, which tells the story of Hershey’s rise to become one of the top chocolatiers in the world. Born on a Pennsylvania farm in 1857, Hershey eventually turned to chocolates and used fresh farm milk to mass-produce milk chocolate, which was until then a luxury confection. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY