Elk Candy Company makes fine chocolate and marzipan. I do not think marzipan is very interesting when it is plain or merely coated in chocolate, so it is nice to find a chocolatier that has developed their marzipan further, as Elk Candy Company has done with their flavored marzipan rolls. I like marzipan this way. Elk sells it in slices. Flavors include pistachio, truffle, hazelnut, and orange.
The second question had an easy answer: Chocosphere, World Wide Chocolate and other very handy Web sites for people who care about cacao content. A carton from Chocosphere containing just over a half pound of Amedei bars and squares ran me $50, with shipping. The next day, the whole box was gone. In my defense, I’ve seen engagement rings that came in bigger boxes. I knew that I wanted more, but at $100 a pound it would be cheaper to fly to Italy and go to the factory myself, which is what I did. This might make me the first traveler in history who went to Tuscany to save money on a candy bar.
Along with the milk and dark bars, there are bite-sized ChocoPods, drinking chocolates, bonbons and truffles. For a real textural experience, try the vegan-friendly Ooh Ahh Almond bar. It blends dark chocolate and crunchy almonds that have been kettle-cooked in sea salt and sugar. Or heat things up with the Spicy Maya bar that fuses cayenne and pasilla chile with creamy dark chocolate. If you want to get in on the latest Chuao flavor, then you have to try Strawberry Waffle Wild, a mix of crunchy waffle bits, strawberries and milk chocolate.
Woodhouse Chocolate ($50 for 24 pieces), a Napa Valley-based chocolatier, was the number one pick over at Consumer Reports. The chocolates are colored with only natural chocolate colors in shades of brown and white, the assortment nestled in robin’s egg blue crinkle cups and boxes. With one first place and one third place vote, it didn’t make a big impression with the first panel of tasters. The one thing it had going for it, though, was that it didn’t get any last place votes.
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.
Exactly when and where the first chocolate shops opened in America is uncertain, but early contenders for the honor include The Original Velatis, which set up shop selling caramels (some of them involving chocolate) in 1866 in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Govatos, which went into business in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1894 (both are still going strong; see slideshow).
This North End chocolate and nut shop run by two childhood friends features a variety of artisan chocolates by local and national chocolatiers as well as gourmet nut mixes, health bars, and specialty snacks, as well as vegan and gluten-free chocolates. Tasting days give the opportunity to try anything from Pure 7’s dark chocolate peppermint bar to Northlight Baking Co.’s macarons.
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One of the house specialties at Fire & Grain is flatbread. Shown is the prosciutto and fig flatbread, which is covered with green onion aioli, prosciutto, figs and arugula, and drizzled with balsamic reduction and garlic oil. “I’ve been making this dough for more than 35 years, and we’ve perfected it,” says chef Michael Cappelli. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Since 1997, this confectionery inside the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero has been putting artistic touches on their small batch yet exquisite chocolates, caramels, bars, sauces, fruit/nut mixes, and truffles. Their top-selling Fleur de Sel Caramels are covered in dark chocolate with a well-blended balance of salt and sweetness. For Valentine’s Day, their Hearts in Motion box provides a whole lot of lovin’—burnt caramel truffles embellished with Picasso-esque images. Grand Amour Box holds three layers of popular truffles like Ginger Heart, Piedmont Hazelnut and Force Noir.
Erin Andrews started making chocolate nearly a decade ago from a small market stall; now, she presides over a sizable cafe and confectionary that specializes in single-origin chocolate bars. Indi’s chocolate bark and single-origin nibs are also on offer, as are body lotions and oils made from cocoa butter. Indi ships nationwide. 1901 Western Ave. Ste D., Seattle, WA
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
Pastry chef Jacques Torres left Manhattan’s Le Cirque in 2000 to open his own chocolate factory. Torres now runs a chocolate empire that includes two production facilities, six NYC outposts and one in Atlantic City. F&W editors Kate Krader and Tina Ujlaki, resident chocolate experts, especially love Torres’s milk chocolate-covered Cheerios ($8.50) and caramel chocolate popcorn, an addictively salty-sweet snack. mrchocolate.com
We wanted to find a wonderful gift for close and very important business associates. You know, the kind that are difficult to shop for because they have everything they need and can buy themselves anything they want. We were thrilled to find monthlyclubs.com, offering the Design Your Own gift club, and selected a unique membership that featured their amazing Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club at incredibly reasonable and affordable prices. The selections are one-of-a-kind delights, at least that's what we heard! Even picky dieters or (gasp) someone allergic to chocolate can enjoy sharing these world class confections.
Candinas Chocolatier is a small manufacturer run by Markus Candinas. His truffle assortment includes two very nice nut pieces, with a very fine crunchy texture and good flavors. The truffles have thin shells and medium-strength flavors. Another piece was sweet and fruity, quite appealing. However, without a chart, you do not know what to expect. The web site also offers no selection of pieces. The marzipan piece I liked seems to be gone. Much of the assortment is plain or mild ganaches or other “just chocolate” pieces that do not interest me. Given that, though, the milk chocolate truffle was spot on, and the flavors are nice.
It is National Chocolate Day, the perfect occasion on which to suggest a line-up of the 15 best chocolate bars in the whole world. This is a personal choice and it is en extremely subjective topic. But as a judge at the International Chocolate Awards and a Grand Jury judge at the Academy of Chocolate awards I have tasted a lot of chocolate - and these are my favourites, in reverse order of my opinion of their deliciousness.