creations impress both the palate and the eye. As Val, one of the panelists, said: "It's more than candy -- it's art." Thomas was more enamored of the taste, writing, "Who knew it was possible for chocolate to be both bold and delicate at the same time?" For Valentine's Day, Shotts makes a limited collection called Legendary Lovers. With chocolates named after star-crossed lovers like Roman mythology's Dido and Aeneas (strawberry basil and raspberry verbena), the collection is bound to get you in the mood. ($20 for the 12-piece box; garrisonconfections.com, 401-490-2740)
Taza chocolate is a breakaway from your run-of-the-mill chocolate bar. The chocolate is round, for starters, and break into slices like a pizza, which is sort of different. The chocolate is also stone-ground, which offers a grittier, grainier feel than more heavily processed chocolate, and reminds you that what your eating came from something of the natural world.
Nandy’s Candy is a small, family-owned business and a much-beloved Jackson, Mississippi, institution. The shop is perhaps best known for chocolate-covered strawberries, which are dipped by hand as you order them. Other fun confections, such as chocolate-dipped Oreos, chocolate popcorn and fudge, will fulfill your chocolate cravings, no matter what form they take.
Milton S. Hershey opened The Hotel Hershey in 1933, on a hill overlooking his chocolate factory. Its architecture was inspired by a hotel he and his wife, Catherine, had visited in the Mediterranean and includes a Spanish-style patio, a decorative fountain and a unique dining room without corners. It has 276 rooms and has been expanded to include event space. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
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Elbow’s pieces are mostly square ganaches or round caramels. Many of the caramels were dominated by a sweet fruit caramel, with chocolate from the crisp shell playing a lesser role. The chocolate was a little stronger in the Fleur de Sel, which was wonderful to bite into. The Bananas Foster is also notable because four flavors, chocolate, banana, caramel, and rum, are each noticeable and distinct, working together but not diminshing each other.
For the chocolate purist, or anyone looking for the perfect corporate gift, we think Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is a great premium choice. The flavors are subtle enough to really let the chocolate shine. The packaging, reminiscent of brown pebbled leather, is understated and innocuous enough to gift for professional reasons. Although these chocolates are incredibly smooth and slightly less sweet than the Michel Cluizel, the overall flavor profile isn’t quite as daring as those in the Recchiuti box and might not provide the same sensory adventure as our main pick. We also think the assortments available online are a little big for a Valentine’s gift (although you can purchase smaller boxes in their stores).
Richart’s Intense Valentine Gourmet Chocolates are $77 for a box of 49 chocolates. The real frustration here is that it's 49, not 50, so those of us with a strong sense of symmetry will have to eat them quickly just to cope. However, they are legitimate French Chocolates, each one having one of seven fancy flavors / aromas - floral, spicy, citrus, balsm, roasted, fruity, or herbal. The box also comes with a dark chocolate plaque for your valentine, so maybe that's piece 50.
Packaging: While we were fans of the chocolate, the packaging we're not too sure about. One taster described the box as something you would give to your Tinder Valentine (but given how popular Tinder is, is that a bad thing?). While that may be taking it a little far, the lace covered heart is definitely va-va-voom so while these chocolates may be perfect for your S.O. maybe don't give them to your grandma.
Owned by a couple for 30+ years, this beloved shop focuses on both chocolates and pastries. The confectionery menu features a plethora of truffles, fondants, and marzipans, as well as specialty treats such as marzipan critters, florentines, and meringue balls. Pâtisseries also make for good eye candy, from chocolate cakes to fruit tartelettes and French macarons.
The 97-year-old chocolatier known for it’s eye-popping displays of bon bons is a favorite of the Belgian royal family. But its high-class tablets, packaged in charming, pastel boxes, are worthy of a taste as well. Perhaps most worthy is Mary's 72 percent dark chocolate bar made with beans from the equatorial (and volcanic) African island of São Tomé. All ten of its fanciful shops are in Belgium except one, which is in Oakwood, Ohio.
Krader appeared genuinely surprised after biting into Teuscher’s hefty, dark-chocolate truffle. "It’s very dense,” she said. “A powerhouse.” Krader didn’t take to the truffle— “not my favorite,” she said—but acknowledged that many people would. “I think this is for people who go big, who want the triple-decker burger—the highest pile of truffles on their pasta,” she said.
Alexandra Whisnant, a Boston native, trained at Le Cordon Bleu and Ladurée in Paris before she opened her chocolate business. Its name means “spoiled like girls,” so it’s no surprise that Whisnant doesn’t cut any corners while making her delicate treats. She starts a new batch of pralines or infused ganaches at the beginning of each week, and they sell out by week’s end. Flavors vary weekly, with honey-walnut praline, blackberry ganache, chocolate-mint (made from mint from her aunt’s garden), and whiskey-infused truffles just some of the latest confections to come off of Whisnant’s chocolate dipping table. Call for the day’s offerings. Shipping is limited. Somerville, MA
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.
The Wild Strawberry was also strong, very nice for strawberry. Some pieces were classics like the House Dark and some were playful like the PB & Jelly or the Speculous S’more, and they were all well done, not a false note among them. My biggest flavor criticism might be that the Gianduja Hazelnut was a little sharp for hazelnut, whereas I prefer a broader, smoother flavor.
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.