French Broad: This chocolatier opened in Asheville in 2007 and does a nice job of giving the chocolate lover a big truffle for the buck. These were some of the largest truffles we tasted. Their Buddha Collection’s vegan truffle was a favorite (composed of bitter sweet chocolate and coconut cream), lending the truffle a nice exotic edge. The Lavender and honey from the signature collection box—a milk chocolate ganache around a dark chocolate ganache blended with local honey and lavender—was the a delicious riff on lavender. The mole negro—housemade mole in dark chocolate and rolled in sesame seeds—great texture and spice.
For three generations, Damask’s Candies has been delighting New Jersey families in the Woolwich Township area for decades. Though the shop sells a variety of creamy chocolates, chocolate-covered caramels and other confections, Damask’s Candies is best known for the chocolate-covered oyster crackers. These bite-sized treats are the perfect mix of sweet, salty, crunchy and smooth; it’s a wonder more chocolate shops don’t offer these. Damask’s Candies is only open seasonally, so be sure to plan your trip to the Garden State accordingly.
The makers were recently crowned the best of the best at the International Chocolate Awards, the biggest and most comprehensive global competition in the world. Soma Chocolatemaker, based in Toronto, was named best chocolate maker in the world for its dark milk chocolate bar made with cocoa beans from Guasare, Venezuela. Omnom Chocolate from Reykjavik, Iceland, took parallel honors for its milk chocolate bar featuring Icelandic milk powder and cocoa from Nicaragua.
Glacier Confection makes some of the prettiest chocolates you’ll ever lay your eyes on, both in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and beyond the city limits. Each and every chocolate, from their blood orange and honey to their cookie dough-inspired confection is beautifully marbled, shiny, and oh-so-smooth. What makes this chocolatier unique is their coffeehouse, cocktail and dessert-inspired treats.
Rich. Luxurious. Decadent. Those are just a few words one can use to describe SPAGnVOLA. This Gaithersburg, Maryland, shop’s signature bonbons are impeccably decorated and boast a variety of classic and innovative flavors (ginger-plum and rosemary olive oil chocolates sit next to caramels). All of the cocoa beans used in the shop’s confections are from a single family estate in the Dominican Republic, ensuring only the highest quality for the handmade bars, bonbons and truffles.
If you want a truly unique chocolate experience, this American chocolatier with Venezuelan roots has created a flavor assortment with more varieties than any other. Thirty-six mini-bars come in twelve flavors – Firecracker, Honeycomb, Baconluxious Chocolate, Potato Chip, Caramel Apple Crush, Salted Chocolate Crush, Totally Tangy Mango, Cheeky Cheeky Churro, Spicy Maya, Pop Corn Pop, Oeange-a-go-go, Sweet and Salty, Strawberry Waffle Wild, and Cinnamon Cereal Smooch. At just over a dollar a bar, it’s a great way to try a wide range of flavors, but the company also offers an eight-count sampler for those on a budget.
The Peanut Crunch started with a good light crunch and revealed distinct but light toasted peanut flavor. That was my favorite, and I also enjoyed the Apricot Cream, Marshmallow Cream, and Tart Cherry. I would prefer stronger chocolate flavors in Anette’s chocolates. The Dansk Bar sounded promising with “chocolate truffle layered over marzipan and vanilla caramel,” but I was disappointed. The flavors were not brought out well, and the texture was firmer than I expected. I also found the Triple Berry Cream too sweet to enjoy the fruit and chocolate flavors, so I recommend you select your favorite pieces from the case if you are in the store.
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!
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).
Back in 1857, Jean Neuhaus opened a pharmacy in Brussels, Belgium and decided to coat medicines with chocolate to help them go down better. By 1912, Neuhaus' son had created the praline, and in 1915, his wife designed the first box of Neuhaus chocolates. Fast forward to 2018, and Neuhaus chocolates are still considered among the very best. We've tasted Neuhaus chocolate at its shops in NYC, and it's delicious.
Richart has improved over the years and makes a nice presentation in the store and in the box. Their chocolates are nice but are far from worth the extraordinary price. I purchased a 25-piece box mixed with Fruity and Roasted pieces. The prepared boxes in the store were all Fruity, all Roasted, or all Balsamic, so each has a uniform color, unlike my mixture to the right. Other design elements in the store are nice, such as a shelf display using a lot of white with a little bright color, different in each column of boxes.
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.
Owned by a couple for 30+ years, this beloved shop focuses on both chocolates and pastries. The confectionery menu features a plethora of truffles, fondants, and marzipans, as well as specialty treats such as marzipan critters, florentines, and meringue balls. Pâtisseries also make for good eye candy, from chocolate cakes to fruit tartelettes and French macarons.
Hershey’s Chocolate World is one of the top attractions in Hershey. Visitors can take a free tour to see how cocoa beans are transformed into Hershey’s chocolate. They also can make their own candy bar, enjoy a chocolate tasting session, tour the town of Hershey via trolley, solve a gooey whodunit in the 4D Chocolate Mystery attraction and shop at one of the largest candy stores around. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
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.