Bartender Drew Scott pours a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Martini at Fire & Grain inside Hershey Lodge. The cocktail combines Castries Peanut Rum Crème, 360 Double Chocolate Vodka and Marie Brizard Chocolat Royal liqueur. Hershey offers several chocolate-themed cocktails at various bars inside the lodge and The Hotel Hershey. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Because they’re meant to be gifted, I presented the chocolates in their boxes, but without the brand names showing. We felt that the presentation should be a factor in judging. We had a very strict rule against calling out a brand to the rest of the group if someone recognized the packaging. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue—no one had a clue about what was what during the tasting.
Ginger Elizabeth Hahn has produced molded and flavored chocolates since 2007. Today, her shop specializes in bonbons in California-inspired flavors like Eureka lemon, raspberry rose geranium, brown butter, buttermilk lime, and olive oil sea salt. Macarons, chocolate bars, and ice cream are also on offer, though only the chocolates ship coast-to-coast. Orders are shipped the day after they’re received, with the exception of Thursday through Saturday orders, which ship the following Monday. 1801 L St. Suite 60, Sacramento, CA
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.
B.T. McElrath Chocolatier was an artisan chocolatier in Minnesota but has become a part of Annie B’s. (I have not done a new review since the change.) McElrath’s truffle assortment was excellent, with balanced and moderately strong flavors. In most pieces, the flavors remained distinct, working together without losing their own identities. B.T.’s Signature Dark Chocolate Truffle had a full chocolate flavor without any bitterness and without being very sweet. Other flavors include caramel; passion fruit; lavender and pepper; chile and lime, lime, coconut, and ginger; cinnamon and star anise. All were well done. I would ask for a different and stronger caramel flavor, but that is a quibble of personal preference.
Chuao Chocolatier: (pronounced chew-wow) This company specializes in textural surprise. The whiz kid behind the firecracker truffle (chipotle caramel fudge with sea salt and popping candy) likes to thread in a secret layer of heat that doesn’t hit until the finish so you get the full-on rich chocolaty pleasure with a spank of fun at the end. The other favorite in this tasting was the Salted Chocolate Crunch with toasted panko breadcrumbs, olive oil ganache and a dusting of sea salt—a truly devilish bit. Owners (and brothers) Michael and Richard Antonorsi. also hail from Venezuela.
Anna Shea Chocolates is an experience not to be missed. The flavors, ingredients, technique, and artistry are excellent, including an excellent color chart and playful names. The assortment includes a variety of flavors including fruit, cinnamon, liqueurs, and some playful flavors like red velvet and birthday cake. The assortment was light on nut flavors, which tend to be my favorites.
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.
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Varsano’s looks like your average chocolate shop, so I was not expecting much, but their chocolates surprised me. Their uncommon white chocolate peanut butter cup was very nice, and the milk chocolate was good too. Marzipan is a favorite of mine, but only when it is elevated from a plain hard paste to something fluffier and more flavorful, and Varsano’s does that with an excellent chocolate-covered pistachio marzipan. I also liked the chocolate-covered graham cracker. The chocolate they use for covering their pieces is appealing. However, the buttercrunch tasted very weak to me, and the truffles did not impress me in 2006 as they did during my first visit.
Candy — and especially chocolate — has been associated with Valentine’s Day since the 19th century. English confectioner Richard Cadbury started packaging his chocolates in heart-shaped boxes adorned with Cupids and rosebuds as early as 1861, and by the early 20th century, what had originally been a religious holiday had become fully commercialized. Candy shops (and florists) reaped the benefits.
Starting off in 2004 with six flavors of chocolate-dipped toffee, this boutique/factory just outside of downtown L.A. now also produces chocolates, petits fours, preserves, cakes and pastries. Though their line of petits fours rightfully shine with flavors like rose petal, their equally tasty toffees, truffles, mendiants and caramels also make for excellent gifts. Plus, for Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped bittersweet or milk chocolates are available in an assortment of boxes.
Philadelphia Candies Assorted Dark Boxed Chocolates are unique and tasty. They are made with nuts that are dry roasted in-house to give the much-needed freshness. Additionally, the manufacturer makes creams from scratch to give these chocolates a unique taste. Philadelphia Candies Assorted Dark Boxed Chocolates also come in a safety sealed to make sure it is 100-percent safe for consumption. Plus they are USDA/FDA-approved to give you confidence knowing you are buying a safe and quality product. They are pure dark chocolates that arrive in temperature-controlled packaging.
Chocolate doesn’t get any fresher than Jouvay, perfected by the Grenada Cocoa Farmers Cooperative based at the rural Diamond Chocolate Factory. The idea was to partner with local farmers working right in the ecosystem to grow the best quality beans. While visiting the 18th-century factory inside a converted rum distillery built by French monks, see the cocoa beans drying on trays under the Caribbean sun. Growers employ a centuries-old French tradition of “walking” the beans—turning them gently by walking over the shells, which are later roasted and removed. Inside the small tasting room, sample each chocolate bar flavor, such as ginger and cocoa nibs. Factory and farm in Victoria, Grenada.