“Birthday cake” is a difficult flavor to convey in a chocolate, but Anna Shea nailed it. The Candied Bacon Caramel also presented the bacon flavor better than other bacon-chocolate attempts I have experienced, but there were still some chewy bits in it that I feel detract from fine chocolate. Other pieces that were excellent without compromise include the Aged Balsamic Caramel, the Haiku (green tea ganache), and Krystle’s Banana Foster.
In the lofty strata where Tessieri operates, “making chocolate” means that you make the chocolate. You import cacao beans from plantations. You roast them and husk them and grind the cacao nibs into a fine paste. You add sugar and grind some more. Finally you swirl the mixture in open tanks called conches, which smooths the texture while helping to blow off acids and other nasty flavors. It’s complicated, demanding work, and few small companies even attempt it.
After I finished looking, I enjoyed the excellent balance of chocolate and raspberry in the framboise. The pistache was great. The noisette had a good hazelnut, but the chocolate was a bit weak. The Chocoblock looks like the chocolate-nut bark you find in so many stores, but it was superb. It contains assorted nuts and particularly brings out the pistachio flavor.
“You can tell that this chocolate is top-of-the-line,” Krader said. “It’s a very smooth experience.” She described the flavor as “buttery” and expanded on that theme by describing the experience as feeling like you’re “putting on the most luxurious and cushy chocolate robe.” The petite size of the truffles, however, raised a red flag. “I like a chocolate that takes two bites to finish,” she said. “These are a bit small for my taste, though aesthetically, they’re very pleasing.”
Chloé Doutre-Roussel, the author of The Chocolate Connoisseur and one of the world’s leading authorities on fine chocolate, uses another word to describe what came next: vendetta. “Everything Alessio does, he does with intensity,” Doutre-Roussel says. “So this revenge became his focus. He put everything—the family money, even his sister—on this project.”
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.
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Cecilia asked me to put on a hairnet, a plastic jacket and disposable blue booties, then led me downstairs to the factory. The machines, Swiss, Italian and German models painted ivory, clacked and hammered away, sounding like an orchestra of conga drums. A young guy with tattooed forearms strained to push sweetened cacao paste through a screen with a paddle. For some reason, the floor was painted blood red. The chocolate smell was so strong and pure I could barely think. Somehow I managed to remark to Alessio that these antique machines must limit the quantity of chocolate Amedei can make.
You can’t get fresher honey bon bons than the ones you will find at Mademoiselle Miel. The honey used in these scrumptious confections is gathered from the rooftops of St. Paul, Minnesota, itself. Get your honey bon bons however you like — smoked with scotch, in a seasonal flavor or simply as classic, pure honey — but just get them. Mademoiselle Miel’s commitment to local ingredients extends to all the shop’s products, which also include maple chocolate bars.
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.
Founder Colin Gasko is running a small but ambitious operation. Each single-origin chocolate bar at Rogue is sourced from independent farms in Peru, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras. Unlike other fair-trade chocolate purveyors, Rogue pays more than twice the minimum for some of its cacao order to ensure the lasting success of those farms. Thanks to its small production, Rogue doesn’t always have a wide array available to purchase online, but each bar tastes like something special. Three Rivers, MA
There may be bars with frillier packaging and more envelope-pushing additions, but when it comes to pure, classic chocolate, Bonnat can lay claim to the crown. This family company began in 1884 and was beloved by Jackie Kennedy Onassis who gave bars to White House guests during the holidays. The Juliana bars are made from specially-grown Brazilian cacao beans, fermented, then dried in the sun slowly, over seven days. Back in France, the beans are painstakingly refined and tempered over five days. It’s an intricate process but, as Stephane Bonnat says, “In the Alps, we have time.”
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Hailing from France’s Rhône Valley, Valrhona’s wine country influence is unmistakable. The label on each Valrhona cru (single origin bar) bears the name of that bean’s terroir. It is the most exclusive of these being the Vintage Single Origin bars, sold in limited quantities according to crop yield. Valrhona also suggests wine pairings designed to bring out the “notes” in each chocolate’s complex flavor profile. From chocolate pearls to tasting squares, the brand’s nec-plus-ultra chocolate bar selection is available at specialty grocery stores.
Nobody knows for sure how many chocolate shops there are in the U.S. today, at least in part because many of them do double duty as patisseries, ice cream parlors, or gift shops. Suffice to say that there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of specialty chocolates, and many places have more. There are at least 80 of them in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.