As Saint Valentine's Day rose in popularity, people began sending gifts of flowers, love letters, and other trinkets. Liquid chocolate drinks were understandably not convenient to mail to a sweetheart. In 1847, Joseph Fry invented chocolate you could eat by adding extracted cocoa butter back into the drinking cocoa powder, changing forever how we think of chocolate.
Chloé Doutre-Roussel, the author of The Chocolate Connoisseur and one of the world’s leading authorities on fine chocolate, uses another word to describe what came next: vendetta. “Everything Alessio does, he does with intensity,” Doutre-Roussel says. “So this revenge became his focus. He put everything—the family money, even his sister—on this project.”
Valrhona, the Rolls Royce of chocolate, has been crafting couvertures (chocolates with high cocoa content) since 1922. Hailing from France's Rhône Valley, Valrhona's wine country influence is unmistakable. The label on each Valrhona cru (single origin bar) bears the name of that bean's terroir, the most exclusive of these being the Vintage Single Origin bars, sold in limited quantities according to crop yield. Valrhona also suggests wine pairings designed to bring out the "notes" in each chocolate's complex flavor profile. From chocolate pearls to tasting squares, the brand's nec-plus-ultra chocolate bar selection is available at specialty grocery stores.
Chocolate is supposed to be fun, and that’s something Bon Bon Bon takes to heart. This Detroit shop makes open-top chocolates inspired by local cultures, using local ingredients, and packaged in recyclable boxes. Each stunning bon is handcrafted; they come in unique flavors like Bour-Bon-Bon-Bon (whiskey caramel, bourbon dark chocolate ganache and glacee orange) and coffee and donuts. In a nod to Michigan’s rich music history, Bon Bon Bon also sells chocolate cassettes and records.
The actual Black Dinah shop in Westbrook is tiny and unassuming, but don’t let the small size of the storefront detour you from trying their fresh artisan chocolates. Their truffles and chocolates are picture-perfect and come in stunning flavors such as pear Champagne and brown butter (the latter is painted with a signature Maine lobster). Their sipping chocolate, which is rich and creamy, is also a must-have for those long, cold Maine winter nights.
And, no surprise, the world winner is also a hit with esteemed makers: "Meeting the wonderful Canadian couple David and Cynthia of Soma Chocolatemaker at the International Chocolate Awards World Championships was a gift," Friis-Holm says. "The rare beans originating from the troubled country of Venezuela that are featured in their Guasare 70% bar make for a very tasty, beautifully executed and worthy world winner."
Shugarman’s Little Chocolate Shop is the definition of “off the beaten path.” You won’t find a website for this 420-square-foot shop in Madrid, New Mexico, but if you visit, you’ll find an ever-rotating selection of uniquely flavored chocolates. Mixtures like dark chocolate with pink peppercorns, lavender, lemongrass and merlot salt sound crazy, but chocolatier Harvey Shugarman makes it work.
Sweet Girl Cookies will make you feel like a kid again, that is, if you’re like me and always tried (and still try) to choose the biggest cookie on the cookie plate. These gourmet cookies are generously big—4.4 ounces, and they cry out to be enjoyed with a big glass of milk or cup of coffee for dunking. Each cookie tends toward a dense cake-like rather than chewy texture, and each flavor is packed with chips. The middle of these cookies (even their “smaller” 2 ounce cookies) is one inch thick. We measured.
Why buy your chocolates online from a brand that's available in most big-box stores? Besides being able to access a greater variety of chocolates - especially during times of the year that stores may run out, such as Valentine's Day and Mother's Day - Russell Stover's site offers a free Rewards Club. You can earn rewards points that are redeemable both online and at Russell Stover store locations; in addition, you'll hear about new products and get the opportunity to try them sooner than the average chocolate connoisseur. The easiest place to sign up for the Rewards Club Loyalty Program is by using the links at the bottom of the Russell Stover website.
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.
Cookie Love’s gourmet cookie flavors include the classics like Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal with dried Cranberries, but you’ll also be tempted by Mocha Chocolate Chip, or how about their heartiest cookie named Enduring Love that combines organic coconut with almonds, oatmeal, chocolate chips and dried cranberries. With loyal customers across the country and rave reviews, Vermont Cookie Love is the place to order rich, all natural cookies and frozen cookie dough for lovers of just-out-of-the-oven home baked cookies.
I was delighted with Artisan du Chocolat’s Couture chocolates. You would do well to make Artisan your first stop in London. The flavors range across fruits, nuts, herbs, and spices and are very well done. My favorites were the softy and crunch Feuillantine and smooth Honey, followed closely by the cooperating flavors in the Coriander Praline and the Banana and Thyme and the slightly piquant Sea Salted Caramel. The collection also shines with the Orange Blossom, Passion Fruit, Lavender, and other pieces.
This box contains two pieces of a sixteen-chocolate selection, making for a wide range of flavors and textures. Presentation is an important factor when it comes to good gourmet chocolate, and there are no corners cut in that regard with this ultimate collection. Both boxes are packaged in a way that makes them ready for gift-giving or any party occasion and really speaks to the high production standards of this chocolatier. Flavors range from more traditional milk chocolates to toffees and pralines. Most consumers very much enjoy the high-quality taste of these chocolates. Even at their worst, they were described as “pleasantly average.”
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.