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.
L.A. Burdick ($40 for 34 pieces, medium-size wood box) was well received, with three second place votes and only one strike against it. The subtle shades of chocolate squares hide a mix of French-inspired ganaches, including plenty of boozy options like Macallan whisky and green Chartreuse. These are safe, middle-of-the-road gifting chocolates that are probably suitable as professional gifts. They are known best for their chocolate mice, which are undeniably cute. L.A. Burdick is based in New Hampshire, with stores in New York City, and Cambridge and Boston.
Chocoholic travelers can have an immersive experience in Hershey, Pennsylvania, at Hershey Park. The amusement park, with roller coasters, water rides and candy mascots, also holds two hotels and one campground. Guests can take in shows and concerts, eat thousands of calories thanks to chocolate-themed menus and rich desserts or even get sticky with a "chocolate fondue wrap" at the full-service spa.
Guittard's Grand Cacao Drinking Chocolate is a combination of chocolate and cocoa. It boasts intense flavor, the red-brown color of Dutch process cocoa, and a toasty aroma. Made at its full strength, the drink is super-rich and so thick it’s nearly syrupy and best consumed in small quantities. You can always use less of the mix if you like and still have a very flavorful hot chocolate.
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
All-Around Favorite: Chocolopolis: The defining difference between these chocolates and others we tasted was the utterly complex and rich ganache inside each different truffle. Chocolopolis has one of the largest collections of craft chocolate bars in the world—many of which they incorporate into their truffles. The Champions Box (my favorite) features all of their award-winning truffles. Lacquered and glossy, each truffle delivers serious taste, (think lemon-lavender white chocolate or the Madagascar dark chocolate). The top taste was the Dominican Republic House Blend truffle, made from their proprietary blend of select Dominican Republic couvertures (cacao). Chocolopolis founder Lauren Adler notes, “I’d compare our style of confections to the French tradition, where it’s really about the quality and the flavor of the chocolate.” Her caramel cups dusted with a cluster of sea salt are worth a bite too.
With five café locations—including one at their factory—this chocolate company handcrafts signature treats that taste exquisite but also look exceptional. Their assortment of bars pep up traditional milk or dark choices with options like a Milk Chocolate Crispy Orange Brulee Bar, Dark Chocolate Espresso Bean, or even the Dark Chocolate Raspberry and Fennel Bark. The gourmet dark, milk and ivory truffles feature fun sweets like the Strawberry or Raspberry Love Bug and Cookies and Cream Cone. Caramels and toffees are touched with sea salt or vanilla, and gourmet hot cocoa mixes go from simple to spicy. A specialty line of liqueur truffles are derived from Oregon’s finest craft distillers. Plus, their tumbled chocolate balls taste of blueberry, hazelnuts, sea salt caramel and even a German roasted malted wheat berry used in beer making.
Christopher Elbow ($35 for 16 pieces) was our top pick for 2014. In a blind tasting, a panel voted it their favorite. In the most recent tasting, the chocolates came across as too sweet and the flavors a little heavy-handed. While they are absolutely beautiful—the chocolates resemble baubles and jewels—they were squeezed out of the top spots by this year’s contenders.
Lindt has been coming up with innovative chocolate recipes for over 165 years. They are known for their meticulous craftsmanship that allows them to produce great tasting and premium quality chocolates. Well, one of these chocolates is the Lindt 7.3 oz. Gourmet Truffles Gift Box. It is made with several flavors including milk, 60-percent extra dark chocolate, dark chocolate vanilla, hazelnut, dark, and white. The chocolate is also Kosher certified, so you can eat it with peace of mind. Each of its pieces is double dipped and then decorated with a smooth melting center.
Stuart, Florida, located about 80 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, is already one charming small town to visit. Its highlight, though, is Castronovo Chocolate. This bean-to-bar small-batch chocolate shop has won several gold medals at the International Chocolate Awards for its lemon oil and lemon salt-infused white chocolate, Sierra Nevada 63 percent dark chocolate and Colombia mocha milk chocolate. The service here is attentive and as world-class as the bars themselves.
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.