Anytime you walk into a chocolate shop and are immediately greeted with a sample of free, homemade fudge, you know you’re in for a good time. That’s what you will find at The Sweet Palace in Philipsburg, Montana. The customer service here is just that good. Beyond huckleberry fudge, you’ll also find homemade truffles, nut bark and creamy chocolates. If chocolate isn’t your thing, The Sweet Palace also sells a bunch of nostalgic candy you forgot existed.
Using natural ingredients like cream from a herd in central Illinois and local wildflower honey, this sweet shop produces hand-dipped truffles, soft honey-caramels and pillowy marshmallows with seasonal or year-round flavors. Inventive flavors include a goat cheese walnut truffle, a banana bourbon caramel, and champagne marshmallow. The shop’s European-style drinking hot chocolates mixes are made with ground chocolate, in offering a cup of full of “wow.” Order one to sip there—Salted Caramel and Mexican, Chai Tea or Hazelnut—and then pick up a canister to go.
The 36-piece assortment I ordered from William Dean Chocolates contained a broad selection of chocolates and flavors, from the familiar peanut butter or even childhood favorite peanut butter and jelly, to fine lavender or port and plum. The Port and Plum was one of my favorites of the box. The flavors interplayed nicely and had some depth. The Mexican Mango was a very nice mango puree with a little bit of spiceness. The PB Krunch had a strong peanut flavor roasted just right. The WD 64%, a straight chocolate piece, was another of my favorites.
“We became convinced it was impossible to become number one in the world buying beans from brokers,” Alessio says. “The broker cannot tell you who grew the beans, or how it was done.” I don’t take Alessio for a weepy humanitarian, and yet he practices enlightened self-interest when it comes to the people who grow his cacao. He has invested in Chuao, agreeing to pay off the farmers’ mounting debts and buying baseball uniforms for the local team. He needs their best work so that he and Cecilia can do their best work.
My 2005 purchase in San Francisco was slightly underweight. The chocolate felt powdery to me. The Ground Orange Gianduja was good, with orange pervading the piece, and the Hazelnut Gianduja was okay. However, the Marzipan and Honey Crunch were lackluster, and the Buttercrunch Chip was a bit dry. The weight of my 2006 Palo Alto purchase was correct. The White Gianduja was pretty good, medium-strength hazelnut flavor with some crunch.
For the second year in a row, Michel Cluizel ($35 for 15 pieces) made it onto our runner-up list. This assortment makes a safer choice than the Recchiuti if gifting to someone with a less adventurous palate. There are no wildly unique flavor combos, and the chocolates come in more traditional shapes with classic fillings and nutty flavors. The chocolate itself is very smooth and subtle, if a little on the sweet side. The simple French confections are also quite beautiful, reflecting the chocolate maker’s painstaking attention to detail. But we don’t find the flavors in this assortment quite as nuanced as those in our main pick, and the packaging and presentation, although pretty, doesn’t offer the same visual impact.
Although the site claims that Chocolate is a member of the Better Business Bureau, the BBB website has not given the retailer accreditation; at the time of our review, Chocolate's rating was a B+. Why? There are some complaints that haven't been resolved to the customer's satisfaction; most of them say that there were issues with credit cards being charged for orders that either shipped considerably late or not at all, and that it was difficult to get any response from Chocolate. The “Contact Us” page only offers an online form or an email address, not a phone number for customers to get more direct help.
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.
You've seen their chocolates at your local big-box retailer, but did you know you can build your own customized box of chocolates via the Russell Stover website? Although their selection is not gourmet or exotic, shoppers looking for a traditional variety of chocolates will find what they want with Russell Stover, which includes the well-known Whitman brand as well.
Eeach Valrhona single origin bar bears the name of that bean’s terroir on its label, the most exclusive of these being the Vintage Single Origin bars, sold in limited quantities according to crop yield. Valrhona also suggests wine pairings designed to bring out the “notes” in each chocolate’s complex flavor profile. From chocolate pearls to tasting squares, the brand’s nec-plus-ultra chocolate bar selection is available at specialty grocery stores.
Spending a little more on this 28-piece assortment of Belgian chocolates will give your loved one plenty of pleasure back in return. Each one-pound package includes buttercreams, truffles, and pralines coated with ivory, milk, and dark chocolate coverings. Plus, it comes pre-wrapped with a beautiful satin bow, so all you have to do is click 'order' and you'll have everything you need for a thoughtful gift.