For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
At this year’s tasting, we again liked Michel Cluizel’s well-executed, classic fillings. This box is sure to please anyone with an affinity for old-style French chocolates. They are the sweetest of our top picks, but they are not as nuanced as those from Recchiuti and lack whimsical flavor combinations (which might be a bonus for some palates). We also found this assortment, dominated by simple squares and circles, less visually exciting than the Recchiuti’s range of unexpected shapes. But for the traditionalist, this box might be just perfect.
Chef Michael Cappelli talks about his 40 years as a Hershey employee inside the Bear’s Den sports-themed restaurant in Hershey Lodge. Cappelli, who also runs Fire & Grain in Hershey Lodge, works the company’s signature chocolate into many food items such as scallops, barbecue sauce and salad dressing. “We’re constantly looking for new ways to incorporate chocolate into our menu,” he says. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
John Scharffenberger, already a big name in the wine world, decided in 1997 to try his hand at artisanal chocolate-making. Using a vintage German melangeur — a machine that slowly grinds cacao beans into a chocolate liquor — and personally sampling beans from more than 150 international cacao farms, he and partner Robert Steinberg sought to bring traditional European chocolate craftsmanship to the States, proudly emphasizing cacao content on the bars' labels — a first for American chocolatiers. The San Francisco team also became the first American bean-to-bar manufacturer in 50 years. Now a member of the Hershey family, Scharffen Berger produces a modest but exquisite selection of bars and tasting squares sold at stores like Whole Foods including a crunchy Milk Chocolate Bar with Sea Salted Almonds.

Exactly when and where the first shop specializing in chocolate candies (as opposed to hot chocolate) appeared in America is uncertain, but early examples include Pulakos Chocolates in Erie, Pennsylvania, dating from 1903; Fowler's Chocolates, which opened in Buffalo, New York, in 1910; Keystone Candies, a chocolate shop and soda fountain launched by Greek immigrants in Pittsburgh in 1914; and a Dutch-themed chocolate shop opened the same year in downtown Los Angeles.

As you can see from our list, finding the right gourmet chocolates need not be complicated or expensive. There are many affordable options for gourmet chocolate that are high in quality and presentation. We’ve chosen selections that will appeal to a wide variety of palates and make up some of the best gourmet chocolates on the market. These chocolates are the perfect gifts for the chocolate enthusiast. You can take a look at our selection of best chocolate gifts for more ideas.
We cut the chocolates into quarters so that more than one person could taste all of the offerings while also trying to avoid palate fatigue. While this may sound like a silly problem, it can be quite frustrating when your taste buds become overstimulated mid-tasting and fail you. To try to limit this, Saltines and club soda were set out to help tasters pace themselves.

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