MarieBelle sent unsolicited commercial email. Their shipping policy is bad. They pick the shipper and require expensive overnight delivery, charge $32 for less than two pounds, and deny responsibility if you do not stay home to receive the package. The web site does not offer a choice of pieces. My 25-piece box contained duplicates, so that only 14 flavors of the 27 depicted on the chart were in the box.
Varsano’s looks like your average chocolate shop, so I was not expecting much, but their chocolates surprised me. Their uncommon white chocolate peanut butter cup was very nice, and the milk chocolate was good too. Marzipan is a favorite of mine, but only when it is elevated from a plain hard paste to something fluffier and more flavorful, and Varsano’s does that with an excellent chocolate-covered pistachio marzipan. I also liked the chocolate-covered graham cracker. The chocolate they use for covering their pieces is appealing. However, the buttercrunch tasted very weak to me, and the truffles did not impress me in 2006 as they did during my first visit.
Committed to quality, the French chocolate-maker Richart guarantees you the most refined chocolates from the most refined ingredients. Richart recipes, developed and tested by the Richart family, have won France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, the Ruban Bleu, seven times. Having perfected the art of chocolate making, Richart now focuses on enhanced flavors and distinctive designs and colors. A box of assorted chocolates is visually stunning. If you really want to impress, splurge on the $850 burlwood vault with seven drawers of chocolate — complete with temperature and humidity gauges.
Stars with a blast of rich but DRY cocoa powder (the kind used in baking). This fades down into a less powdery and dry cocoa scent, where the vanilla begins to peek through. Unfortunately, the performance of this scent on my skin is fairly weak. It doesn't project off of me at all. Despite the other notes listed, I really only smell the cocoa powder.
Run by master chocolatier Jin Caldwerll, Las Vegas’s JinJu Chocolates uses fresh, seasonal and local ingredients to craft their artisan chocolates. Highlights at this Nevada-based mom-and-pop shop include their sea salted caramels (which come in a variety of flavors, including lemon, chipotle cinnamon and espresso) and the Fortunato No. 4 Chocolate Bar, a single-origin Peruvian chocolate that contains multitudes you can only dream of.
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.
Launched in 2006, the Seattle-based Theo Chocolate was the first chocolate manufacturer in the US to be both 100 percent organic and fair-trade. (The Fair Trade Certificate goes only to eco-friendly products made by workers who are paid enough to cover their basic needs and reinvest in their operations.) Theo’s conscientious chocolates are delicious: nuanced and intense, like dark, single-origin bars from nations such as Ghana and Madagascar. Founder Joseph Whinney is so passionate about chocolate that he hired a biologist to genetically map Theo’s beans. Not all of Theo’s endeavors are so serious: 3,400 Phinney bars, named for the factory’s street address, come in whimsical flavors like the salty-sweet Bread and Chocolate ($7), featuring dark chocolate mixed with bread crumbs; it’s perfect with afternoon coffee. theochocolate.com
The biggest drawback to Stick With Me Sweets is the price. However, this is an experience I would not want to miss, so I recommend trying a box at whatever size suits you. The web site did not offer options to choose your own pieces (just “surprise me!”, nut free, and gluten free), but you can enter requests in the special instructions section when checking out. The box came with a chart of color drawings that identified most pieces, but a few were hard to match to the drawings, and limited edition pieces may not be in the chart.
MarieBelle’s chocolates have fun designs, but the flavors did almost nothing for me. The Swiss chocolate is a thin shell around the fillings and contributed little to the taste. Good ingredients were used, and the flavors, when I could detect them, were well done. However, even pieces I would expect to have prominent flavors, like the Pineapple or Mandarin, were weak. The Spices piece was good, and the Hazelnut Praline was good except for the slightness of the flavor. I could not recommend these at half the price, let alone the $100/lb. charged.
Named after Venezuela’s legendary cacao-producing region, Chuao Chocolatier specializes in “fusion chocolate.” Founded in 2002 by Venezuelan master chocolatier and chef Michael Antonorsi, and his brother Richard, Chuao (pronounced chew-wow, as it turns out) aims to dazzle and delight taste buds by pairing ethically sourced chocolate with natural — and oftentimes surprising — ingredients such as chile peppers, popcorn, potato chips, bacon and honeycomb.
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.
Juan enjoys Åkesson's Single Plantation Chocolate, Madagascar, Bejofo Estate, 75%, made with Criollo cocoa (the world's most precious and celebrated variety) grown in northwest Madagascar. "It distinguishes itself with well-defined aromas and flavors. But I especially enjoy the balance of its smooth and creamy texture – that makes it unforgettable."
The beginning of Godiva chocolates traces back to a 1920s chocolate- and sweet-making workshop owned and operated by the Draps family in Brussels, Belgium. Their “pralines,” typical Belgian filled chocolates, were sold in the large, highly fashionable shops. At the age of 14, Joseph Draps went into the family business. Over the years, he developed both his ability and creative talent as a master chocolate-maker as well as his business sense. He decided to create a prestige range of chocolates and to give it an evocative name. He chose “Godiva” and marketed his chocolates in instantly recognizable gold boxes. In recognition of its excellence, Godiva has been rewarded with an appointment as supplier to the Court of Belgium. Godiva continues to be an innovator in gourmet chocolate.
Lindt has been coming up with innovative chocolate recipes for over 165 years. They are known for their meticulous craftsmanship that allows them to produce great tasting and premium quality chocolates. Well, one of these chocolates is the Lindt 7.3 oz. Gourmet Truffles Gift Box. It is made with several flavors including milk, 60-percent extra dark chocolate, dark chocolate vanilla, hazelnut, dark, and white. The chocolate is also Kosher certified, so you can eat it with peace of mind. Each of its pieces is double dipped and then decorated with a smooth melting center.
Garrison has other novelties, but the toffee was best. The Ultimate Nougat Bar suggested something I would like to see chocolatiers try—remaking classic candy bars with fine ingredients. Unfortunately, the Nougat Bar fell short. It felt too empty of flavor, and the first three ingredients do not impress (dried egg whites, sugar, and potato starch).