See’s ($18 for 1 pound, available nationwide) was one of the value picks in our tasting lineup. Their chocolates tend to be bigger, enough for two bites instead of one, with a mix of dark and milk chocolate, around old-fashioned nougat and nut caramel fillings. While it got three strikes against it, it also got one third place vote. The assortment may be a nostalgic standby for devotees, but it can’t compete with the more boutique chocolates out there. Still, they were far and away better than Russell Stover.
In researching and testing for this guide, I was surprised to find that expensive doesn’t always mean high quality. Some of the costly boutique chocolates we tried were clearly made from inferior beans, with flavor that just died on the tongue. The Recchiuti chocolates, on the other hand, are worth the money, with the subtle flavors that come from great cacao.
I have liked Chuao in the past but think their products have changed, perhaps to support larger production and distribution. My 2014 order was somewhat disappointing, not up to the $84/lb. price. Ingredients seemed to be good quality, but the flavors were generally not strong, and the chocolate flavors were weak. The honey combined nicely with the nut flavors in Nut & Honeylicious. But the nut flavors, which are often my favorites, were mild in this and other pieces. Among the stronger flavors were the raspberry and strawberry in the Framboise and Strawberry Seduction, but even these were medium strength at best and without strong support from the chocolate.
As its name suggests, Denver’s The Chocolate Lab combines the worlds of science and chocolate into one culinary experience. You’re not going to find an abundance of sea salt caramels and vanilla creme chocolates here. Instead, you can get handmade truffles with unique flavors such as Humboldt fog cheese, duck fat caramel and bacon, absinthe-fennel and cornflake chili. The Chocolate Lab also features a restaurant with savory favorites like scallops, charred cauliflower and linguine — all infused with chocolate.
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.
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.
Masters at everything they do, these Toronto chocolate experts present pure chocolate bars made with beans from around the world, taste-tempting chocolate confections, and truffles like works of art. The conoidal Douglas fir truffles—symbolic of the Canadian coniferous icon—blend fruity cocoa from the Dominican Republic and natural oils from the fir trees to give the experience of eating chocolate in the middle of a pine forest. SOMA also highlights their expertise in frozen confections like whiskey and chocolate gelato, nods to their first store space in the corner of a distillery. Two stores and a chocolate lab in downtown Toronto.
After gaining recognition for the adorable almond-eared chocolate mice he provided to New York City’s Le Cirque and Bouley in the 1990s, chocolatier Larry Burdick moved to Wapole, New Hampshire, where he opened a cheery yellow café. Today, there are L.A. Burdick locations in New York City, Boston, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, serving his fantastic handmade chocolate candies, from ganache-filled truffles to the chocolate bunnies Burdick makes each spring, an Easter variation on his famous chocolate mice. burdickchocolate.com
Larry Burdick makes exquisite delicious chocolate pieces at Burdick Chocolate, a small manufacturer at the western edge of New Hampshire, northwest of Keene and 70 miles from Nashua. Burdick does a great job of making a variety of ornate fine chocolates and presenting them well. The pieces in his assortment differ from each other well, so that one is entertained by the changes in flavor, style, and shape. The flavors range from intense chocolate to balanced to strong non-chocolate flavors, and the sweetness ranges from bitter to very sweet. Some flavors are familiar, and some are exotic.
Considered by many to be the best chocolates in America, Boston’s Beacon Hill Chocolates does everything perfectly. The taste, texture, and look of their confections are world class. This Massachusetts shop's most popular offerings include inventive confections such as a caramel sushi, a red velvet brownie covered in dark chocolate and truffles in the shapes of your favorite animals. These chocolates are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Donnelly’s chocolates have well-developed chocolate flavors. Many pieces use strong flavors of spices, fruits, or nuts. I recommend identifying each piece before biting into it—the chocolate-banana combination is better when you expect it than when you are surprised. The cardamom piece is similarly better savored when you are prepared to sense the cardamom. (This spice is not used as much as its distinctive flavor and scent warrant. If you are not familiar with it, I recommend smelling and tasting a little separately before trying Donnelly’s cardamom-chocolate combination.)
While these chocolates had dustings of flavors that run the gamut from wild fennel pollen to Hungarian paprika on their outer shell, the insides “taste like a blast of dark, straight-ahead chocolate,” said Krader. She noted that the truffles themselves, while tasty, were not necessarily a go-to for chocolate purists: “They use flavorings as an exclamation mark; I'd recommend these for people who pride themselves on their unconventional fashion stylings."
I was trying to think of something to give my parents for their anniversary that was different since they seem to have everything. I came across the Chocolate of the Month Club and after looking through their website, I decided to give it a try for a couple of months. When they received their gift announcement, they were thrilled and couldn’t wait for their shipment to arrive. When they got their first shipment they immediately called me and sent me pictures. After my two month gift to them was over, they called customer service right away to keep it going on their own and it hasn’t stopped since, that was three years ago! I couldn’t have gotten them a better gift!
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.
You can’t go wrong with anything at Vande Walle’s Candies in Appleton, Wisconsin; the chocolate is so high-quality and delicious that everything is great. This local candy shop is best known for its angelfood candies, with a light, airy center that melts in your mouth. Their truffle chocolate bars, with a classic chocolate outside and smooth, velvety interior, are also a highlight.
I enjoy finding artisan chocolatiers when I travel. Chocolat Abeille (French for bee) is a gem in downtown Omaha. Their general assortment includes a variety of beautiful pieces including fruit, tea, and other flavors. Among these, the Caramel Ganache presented its chocolate flavor nicely, while others tended to be stronger in their fruit or other flavors. They are made in small batches and may sell quickly; the pieces that were available varied slightly over several visits in the course of a week. My favorite was a larger special piece (priced to match), the Hazelnut Banana Crisp, with a nice balance between its banana, hazelnut, and chocolate flavors.
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.