Savoring each bite of bold, innovative and flavorful hand-made chocolates is without a doubt the best part of being a member of The Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club™. Discovering chocolatiers and chocolate creations you’ve never tried before makes that even better. But why stop there? Each month you’ll read all about the origins and histories of each featured chocolate, what kinds of time-honored or innovative processes were used to make them, what creative ingredients were used to make them and most importantly, what to look for when you taste them.
Chocolate contributes more than $700 million to the Ecuadorian economy. A single 1.8 ounce bar of the finest chocolate divided into 12 squares will set customers back more than $250. For the adventurous chocoholics who want to see chocolate production from seed to bar, the Cacao Route offers the opportunity to visit cacao farms and eventually eat chocolate in a number of dishes as well as sweet and bitter bars. Cacao Route tours take place near the Pacific coast, with options to tour the Organic Cacao Museum, horseback ride along the path and visit plantations and packing facilities, as well as in the Amazon, which features spa treatments at the Papallacta
Some of the Fruity pieces were excellent, particularly the Mango Passionfruit ganache. The fruit flavor was nicely bittersweet and strong with a good peak, complemented by slightly bitter chocolate. The Lime ganache, Raspberry ganache, and Red Berry bouquet coulis were also quite good with strong fruit flavors. The Orange Zest coulis was very interesting. I had the sensation of flavor in the upper palate versus on the tongue. The Apricot coulis flopped, though; it was weak and not sweet enough for me.
There are a great number of incredible chocolate shops in Chicago and the rest of Illinois, but Katherine Anne Confections in the Windy City takes our top spot. You won’t find flawless chocolates here, but you’ll find homemade treats done absolutely right; you wish your mama could make candies like these. But just because these chocolates are reminiscent of your own hometown chocolate shop doesn’t mean there aren’t sparks of innovation here. Look no further than the truffles, which include classic flavors like hazelnut and citrus right next to fun flavors such as lemon poppyseed and goat cheese walnut.

In the lofty strata where Tessieri operates, “making chocolate” means that you make the chocolate. You import cacao beans from plantations. You roast them and husk them and grind the cacao nibs into a fine paste. You add sugar and grind some more. Finally you swirl the mixture in open tanks called conches, which smooths the texture while helping to blow off acids and other nasty flavors. It’s complicated, demanding work, and few small companies even attempt it.
Christopher Elbow Chocolates is a Kansas City, Missouri, shop that takes the phrase “artisanal chocolates” to the next level. Each and every piece of candy is painted by hand, making these more like tiny, edible pieces of art than an after-dinner treat. The creativity extends beyond looks; these chocolates come in inventive flavors such as rosemary, Japanese yuzu and calamansi lime as well as an ever-rotating list of limited-edition flavors.

What’s fun about ordering cookies from Milk Jar is the ability to create a custom box and choose from 15 different flavors that include Banana Split, Birthday Cake, Rocky Road, and White Chocolate Raspberry. Or skip the pressure of choosing and just order the popular assorted box. Order as few as a half dozen ($15) to up to two dozen for online orders ($60). Need more than two dozen? Just give them a call.


MarieBelle’s chocolates have fun designs, but the flavors did almost nothing for me. The Swiss chocolate is a thin shell around the fillings and contributed little to the taste. Good ingredients were used, and the flavors, when I could detect them, were well done. However, even pieces I would expect to have prominent flavors, like the Pineapple or Mandarin, were weak. The Spices piece was good, and the Hazelnut Praline was good except for the slightness of the flavor. I could not recommend these at half the price, let alone the $100/lb. charged.


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.
We knew there was a word for what the look and taste of the gourmet cookies from 1812 House made us feel, so we got busy Googling and we think we found it: Hiraeth. Hiraeth is a Welch word that is tough to translate but it expresses that feeling of longing and nostalgia that borders on homesickness for a time or place you can no longer return to. That’s the kind of emotional time travel we had when we unboxed our cookies from 1812 House. These are timeless, classic cookies made with real butter and vanilla and handmade in small batches. Eating one is like stepping back in time, a pleasure mixed with nostalgia.

Show your students the Treasures of Italy. Discover Venice and its canals with a local guide. Travel to Verona and visit Juliet's house and its famous balcony. Spend the night in Milan and explore the city with a local guide before traveling on to Florence,  the birthplace of the Renaissance. Travel through Tuscany to explore Assisi. End your journey in Rome where you will visit the Vatican and see St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel.	...Read More

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.
Committed to quality, the French chocolate-maker Richart guarantees you the most refined chocolates from the most refined ingredients. Richart recipes, developed and tested by the Richart family, have won France’s most prestigious confectioner’s honor, the Ruban Bleu, seven times. Having perfected the art of chocolate making, Richart now focuses on enhanced flavors and distinctive designs and colors. A box of assorted chocolates is visually stunning. If you really want to impress, splurge on the $850 burlwood vault with seven drawers of chocolate — complete with temperature and humidity gauges.
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