American consumers are expected to spend an astonishing $1.8 billion-plus on candy for the holiday this year, and about 75% of that will be on chocolate. Mass-market confectioners like Russell Stover, in business since 1923, will account for most of the sales. (The company, which also owns the Whitman’s brand, is the largest boxed-candy manufacturer in America.) Most smaller chocolate shops prepare special Valentine’s Day assortments and/or other chocolate-related gifts, though, and these tend to offer greater variety and utilize better-quality chocolate.
Along with the milk and dark bars, there are bite-sized ChocoPods, drinking chocolates, bonbons and truffles. For a real textural experience, try the vegan-friendly Ooh Ahh Almond bar. It blends dark chocolate and crunchy almonds that have been kettle-cooked in sea salt and sugar. Or heat things up with the Spicy Maya bar that fuses cayenne and pasilla chile with creamy dark chocolate. If you want to get in on the latest Chuao flavor, then you have to try Strawberry Waffle Wild, a mix of crunchy waffle bits, strawberries and milk chocolate.
This box is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys a variety of chocolate textures or simply as a perfect addition to your next party. It features milk, semisweet, bittersweet and dark chocolate pieces, meaning there is something for everyone and it’s an ideal one-stop chocolate shop for wine pairing. Everything is gluten-free and made from the highest quality artisan cocoa. The chocolates feature both a presentation and price point that really push this product over the edge and help to make it some of the best gourmet chocolate out there.

The milk chocolate orange truffle is also excellent, but I am not as fond of the others. I had to work to taste the hazelnut in the milk chocolate hazelnut, and the chocolate flavors did not seem strong to me in the milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or darkest dark chocolate. I wonder if the cream they are using is a little unusual. (The web site gives a hint: In addition to heavy cream, the truffles contain butter and butterfat.)
What kinds of chocolates can you get at Russell Stover? While you won't find anything overly exotic or gourmet, you'll find an appealing selection of just about everything else. Whether you want milk or dark chocolate, sampler or single-flavor boxes, or you'd like to build your own gift box, the website makes it easy for you to find it. Use the search box, or simply click on the brand you prefer (Russell Stover or Whitman's) at the top of the page, where you'll get a dropdown menu of the available product categories. In addition to chocolates, you'll also find gift baskets (with or without plush animals), hard candies and jelly beans, brittle and chocolate bars, and an outlet for clearance items at a discount.
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.
By and large, the truffles are nice. In the Class 5, the chocolate led, and the raspberry was a good partner. The Black Diamond made good use of chocolate. The Rocky Top had a mild pleasant coffee flavor. The Powder Day was a good firm white chocolate. Mostly the strengths were medium, although the hazelnut was weak in the milk chocolate Mud Season.
While these chocolates had dustings of flavors that run the gamut from wild fennel pollen to Hungarian paprika on their outer shell, the insides “taste like a blast of dark, straight-ahead chocolate,” said Krader. She noted that the truffles themselves, while tasty, were not necessarily a go-to for chocolate purists: “They use flavorings as an exclamation mark; I'd recommend these for people who pride themselves on their unconventional fashion stylings."
Review: This Russell Stover box is the classic V-Day chocolate that you've been getting since middle school and it's classic for a reason. The chocolate isn't mind blowing but it's consistently interesting and varied. It definitely has a store-bought quality to it but it's good enough that people will still be happy you got it for them. After all it's chocolate, and if you get someone chocolate and they don't appreciate it, you need to dump them because you don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
Candinas Chocolatier is a small manufacturer run by Markus Candinas. His truffle assortment includes two very nice nut pieces, with a very fine crunchy texture and good flavors. The truffles have thin shells and medium-strength flavors. Another piece was sweet and fruity, quite appealing. However, without a chart, you do not know what to expect. The web site also offers no selection of pieces. The marzipan piece I liked seems to be gone. Much of the assortment is plain or mild ganaches or other “just chocolate” pieces that do not interest me. Given that, though, the milk chocolate truffle was spot on, and the flavors are nice.

Juan enjoys Åkesson's Single Plantation Chocolate, Madagascar, Bejofo Estate, 75%, made with Criollo cocoa (the world's most precious and celebrated variety) grown in northwest Madagascar. "It distinguishes itself with well-defined aromas and flavors. But I especially enjoy the balance of its smooth and creamy texture – that makes it unforgettable."


“Birthday cake” is a difficult flavor to convey in a chocolate, but Anna Shea nailed it. The Candied Bacon Caramel also presented the bacon flavor better than other bacon-chocolate attempts I have experienced, but there were still some chewy bits in it that I feel detract from fine chocolate. Other pieces that were excellent without compromise include the Aged Balsamic Caramel, the Haiku (green tea ganache), and Krystle’s Banana Foster.
If you want to try a wide assortment of fine European chocolates for little more than the price of a basic Russel Stover box, Merci’s assortment is a great option. This box of twenty small bars comes with six varieties – milk chocolate, coffee and cream, hazelnut almond, hazelnut cream, dark mousse, and praline cream. Each bar is individually wrapped for easy eating, making this offering from the German brand a tasty and affordable option for those just entering the world of high-end European chocolate.
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.
I gave each of them a ranking sheet where they could rank each brownie mix on a scale of 1 – 10 points. I also encouraged them to take notes and describe in detail their takes on the brownies. The brands were left anonymous and each type of brownie mix was given a number so we could track the scores.  I gave them a few descriptive words to help while judging such as moist, chewy, fudgy, cakey, dense, too sweet, spongy, oily, weird aftertaste, fake flavor, lacks flavor, weird aftertaste, etc.  They also had to circle their favorite chocolate brownie mix. The results may surprise you!
To take advantage of Chase Sapphire Preferred’s lucrative offer of 3x points on dining on the first Friday of every month, we regularly round up the best in food and drink. To get a jump on your February 14/Valentine’s Day sweets shopping, TPG Contributor Michele Herrmann has put together an assortment of artisan chocolate shops across the U.S. where the candies are just as individual as your Valentine.
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.
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.

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.

×