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.
Cacao Art: Made by sisters Susana and Isabel Garcia, who started the business in Venezuela but later moved to Miami (lucky for us). Says Isabel, “We think, as sisters, there is a lot of nostalgia in our chocolates, because we like to recreate the tastes of our shared childhood in Venezuela.” Case in point, the decadent Anís y Papelón truffle (an International Chocolate Awards winner) made from sweet anise and raw cane sugar and inspired by a traditional Venezuelan pastry. The sisters use as many local and organic ingredients as possible and different spices and flavors from their extensive travels in Europe and North and South America.
Chocolat Céleste is a mixed bag; I have enjoyed some pieces but not all (relative to experienced expected for the price), and prices have escalated. I suggest the Grand Cru collection. Although pricey, $139/lb. in 2012, it is a rare opportunity to taste criollo (a type of cacao, from which chocolate is made). I enjoyed the criollo pieces in the collection. They should be approached as a tasting experience: Cleanse your palate with water, smell, taste, let the chocolate dissolve, and take the time to experience it. The collection also has non-criollo pieces that I found a bit flat and dry compared to the criollo.
Hotel Chocolat is a UK based company specializing in exclusive chocolates. But, right away their noticeable lack of selection is a huge turn off. With only approximately 10 products to choose from this website is a disappointment. They do offer white, milk and dark chocolate items. But, the only thing that really caught our attention was a beautiful heart shaped chocolate milk and strawberry flavored item. Unfortunately, they were sold out weeks in advance of the holiday and the item cost $55.00.
If you get a huge box of chocolates and can’t finish them in two weeks, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. After that, the flavors of the creams and ganaches can turn stale. When storing chocolates in the refrigerator, take the same steps you would when refrigerating chocolate bars. Be sure to wrap the box very well in plastic wrap, and seal in a zip-top plastic bag. Prior to eating, let the chocolates come to room temperature before unwrapping to avoid any condensation.
The Corso was the most novel piece, combining olive oil, salt, and chocolate. I was skeptical, but the olive oil was presented nicely and worked well with the chocolate. My sensations of the Pietra alternated between the chocolate and hazelnut flavors; they were balanced nicely. Generally, Hermé’s pieces had good chocolate and nice flavors, although I did not agree with all of the balances. I did not taste the caramel or salt very much in the Makassar, and the raspberry in the Ispahan could have been stronger.
Belgian chocolate is perhaps one of the most popular European chocolates in the world. Donckels Belgian chocolate truffles truly highlight this, with their fine Belgian truffles, dusted with cocoa powder. They have a soft, creamy texture. The high-quality chocolate more than makes up for the relatively high price. One small issue with these truffles is transport. In some instance, the truffles were not cooled properly during the transport, causign the truffles to fuse together. It makes them less than ideal if you’re looking for gourmet chocolates to gift. But the chocolate is just as delicious, even if the truffles lose their shape.
The Maison du Chocolat packaging, while very sophisticated, is pretty conservative and not as sexy as our top pick. The textured box mimics pebbled brown leather and has the logo stamped on the back. The adjective that comes to mind is “professional”; it looks luxe but understated and reserved. We think this box of chocolate would be great as a corporate gift, or for your mother-in-law.
First time there we tried a few chocolate candies. We started eating them as soon as we left the shop and could not stop! They were so good, we kept walking and eating and didn't pay attention to where we were going. In Venice that can really get you lost! After finding our way back to the shop we bought more candy. This time enough to get us through the rest of the trip.
Xocolatti’s globally-inspired truffles and slates (very thin versions of chocolate bark ($28) with layers that recall slate rock) come in seven exotic flavors like mango and paprika with white chocolate. “In India, we usually eat fruit with spices on it, and one of the most popular combinations is mangos with paprika on top,” says founder Shaineal Shah. xocolatti.com
One of the few true bean-to-bar chocolatiers in America, Dandelion also sells macarons, hot chocolate, caramels, and pastries at its San Francisco shop. The single-origin brownies are a popular treat, but the brand’s single-origin chocolate bars, which ship nationwide, have a cult following, and each one feels like a special gift. 740 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA
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
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.
Galaxy is sold as Dove in several countries internationally. This brand of chocolate ranges in flavors from milk chocolate, fruit & nut varieties, and bubbles. The Galaxy and Dove brands also market products including hot cocoa powder, cakes, and ice cream. This comes in second to the Cadbury Dairy Milk bar in the best selling chocolate bars in the United Kingdom.