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You will actually have to visit Amsterdam to sample what may be the best chocolates in the Netherlands. The proprietors of Puccini Bomboni, a delightful cafe and restaurant, hand-make each chocolate on the premises and do not deliver. Exotic combinations of chocolate and spices, concocted from the freshest ingredients, are a specialty. Although the variety isn’t enormous, the quality is truly amazing.
Troegs Brewing has set the pace of the Hershey craft beer scene since 1997. Founded by brothers John and Chris Trogner, Troegs offers a large selection of lagers, wheat beers, hop-laden ales, Belgian-style ales and seasonal brews. A visit to the tasting room and snack bar is a great way to wrap up a brewery tour, offered daily. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
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.
Most chocolate makers know nothing about where their cacao comes from. A former consultant for a well-regarded European chocolate maker told me that until last year, the firm’s cacao buyer had never been to a plantation. Farmers sell to brokers who sell to bigger brokers; by the time the cacao reaches the factory, nobody knows its story. Sometimes this arrangement allows growers to mistreat workers without accountability. It also can allow them to get the same price for unripe, rotting or generally trashy beans—at their worst, these are known as "dogs and cats"—that they get for the good stuff.
Since 1997, this confectionery inside the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero has been putting artistic touches on their small batch yet exquisite chocolates, caramels, bars, sauces, fruit/nut mixes, and truffles. Their top-selling Fleur de Sel Caramels are covered in dark chocolate with a well-blended balance of salt and sweetness. For Valentine’s Day, their Hearts in Motion box provides a whole lot of lovin’—burnt caramel truffles embellished with Picasso-esque images. Grand Amour Box holds three layers of popular truffles like Ginger Heart, Piedmont Hazelnut and Force Noir.
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.
Shuddering at the thought of using a mix? We don’t blame you. Like blue jeans and coffee beans, the options seem endless, and making the wrong choice invariably leads to disappointment. Some mixes result in dry or bland cakes, while others can pass pretty easily for homemade. With a team of cake-loving Taste of Home staffers, we compared five of the most popular cake mix brands in a blind taste test.
For the chocolate purist, or anyone looking for the perfect corporate gift, we think Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is a great premium choice. The flavors are subtle enough to really let the chocolate shine. The packaging, reminiscent of brown pebbled leather, is understated and innocuous enough to gift for professional reasons. Although these chocolates are incredibly smooth and slightly less sweet than the Michel Cluizel, the overall flavor profile isn’t quite as daring as those in the Recchiuti box and might not provide the same sensory adventure as our main pick. We also think the assortments available online are a little big for a Valentine’s gift (although you can purchase smaller boxes in their stores).
These Wockenfuss artisan truffles are not just absolutely delicious, they’re also gorgeously crafted. There are 12 truffles in the box, each with unique fillings, made with dark chocolate and milk chocolate. The onyl complaint you’ll have with these gourmet chocolates is that they are so beautifully decorated you’ll find it difficult to actually eat them.
Review: Let's just say you get what you pay for and since you'll have to shell out top dollar ($50 to be exact) for these babies, we can assure you, they're good. However, we do have to point out that they are tasty, but not amazing. One taster described one of the Godiva's as "[feeling] like a hug, a milky embrace" while another brought things back to earth with "the special edition truffle, not so special." Don't worry, while not every piece is delectable, there are some definite stand outs, so they're worth the extra dough.
My husband Evan got me a subscription to your gourmet chocolate of the month club as a gift. It was one of the best gifts I've ever gotten - our whole family looks forward to each month's new arrival of chocolates. We share the pieces, savoring every bite. Each one is better than the last! Our 2 year old son Calder gets so excited whenever he sees the beautiful packaging, he loves to keep the "presents" even long after the chocolates have been devoured. Of course he is even more excited by the "special treats" inside. Thank you for bringing so much joy into our home each month!
A mural of Milton S. Hershey adorns The Hershey Story Museum, which tells the story of Hershey’s rise to become one of the top chocolatiers in the world. Born on a Pennsylvania farm in 1857, Hershey eventually turned to chocolates and used fresh farm milk to mass-produce milk chocolate, which was until then a luxury confection. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Cadbury, anyone? It’s hard to pass up a Cadbury egg when they appear in the grocery store, but the brand originated in the United Kingdom and originally sold tea, coffee, and drinking chocolate in the 1820s. The Cadbury brothers supplied Queen Victoria with chocolate in the 1850s and developed the popular Dairy Milk chocolate, famous for having a higher milk content, in 1905. While you can buy Cadbury Eggs and Dairy Milk bars around the world, we think they taste better while walking down a cobblestone street in the U.K.!
For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
Those were my favorites of the Bean to Truffle Collection. They are novel enough that I am pleased to have tried them once, but the exceptional price prevents me from recommending the collection. The other pieces in my box were well done but not highlights for me. The Pistachio Marzipan did not present the pistachio or marzipan flavors well, the Nougat Torrone does not feature much chocolate flavor, and the Gianduja seemed very slightly bitter.
Who would think we would be singing the praises of Canadian chocolate? Soma, which began in 2003, describes itself as a place to "eat, drink, and worship chocolate". Visitors can experience their small-batch chocolate-making up close at the micro-factory on the Toronto store's premises. Their menu boasts an impressive display of mind-blowing creativity, like "Sparky" Gianduja pralines laced with Pop Rocks, Gooderham Worts Whiskey truffles and the 8-Year Aged Balsamic Vinegar truffles. Bars are available in rectangle or circle form — Soma's Chocolate Possible Worlds bars come as 200-gram oversized disks, such as the "Ruby Red" bar topped with wild cherries, cranberries, barberries and dusted with Sumac powder. O Canada!
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.
At $120 a pound, Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is pretty expensive chocolate, but it’s some of the best we’ve ever tasted. These are bonbons for the chocolate purist because you can still really taste the chocolate in each one. Even in the raspberry ganache, which is so packed with fresh flavor that you could swear you just ate the perfect raspberry, the complexity of the chocolate still comes through. The ganaches are incredibly smooth and the chocolate that comprises the shell is perfectly tempered, giving a very satisfying “snap” on first bite. The flavors, though, are more traditional than our main pick’s. While every chocolate in the Recchiuti box pleasantly surprised us, the Maison chocolates, although excellent, aren’t as adventurous. For a Valentine’s or romantic gift, we feel the Recchiuti make a better choice.
Searching through the website is simple at Hotel Chocolat, you may choose from filled chocolates and truffles, pure chocolate, cocoa cuisine, gifts, luxuries, corporate, or the next holiday. Within each category there is a small selection of products for your choosing. Take note that extra fees apply to packaging at Hotel Chocolate and their shipping was higher priced than some.