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."
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.
K’s 5-star review: Nama grand mariner and Nama champagne: rich and delicious. Absolutely. Remind me of Burdick's Pave, which are one of my absolute favorites. The Nama are a better value -- more pieces with the benefit of a handy prong to keep all the cocoa dusted pieces from feather off on your fingers. Boxes run $18.00 each as of 4/2014. Potato chips: really didn't click. Tasted greasy and didn't flatter either -- more guilt and less pleasure.
This was, hands-down, Krader’s favorite. “Oh, my God,” she said. “I feel like I just fell into a pool of chocolate.” More to the point, the Neuhaus truffles did everything Krader said a good chocolate truffle should: The tender coating gave way to a luxurious whipped mousse filling, with layers of flavor. (“It comes in waves,” Krader said.) The units were big enough for two satisfying bites, and they tasted as if they'd been made five minutes earlier. “A chocolate like this makes you realize how many old chocolates you’ve eaten in your life,” she said. "And how many mediocre ones."
High-quality chocolate, made from the best cacao beans, is the first step. Next is the filling. When a confectioner makes the conscious decision to make high-quality chocolates, they forgo preservatives and artificial flavors and use natural fruit, nuts, butters, spices and herbs. The end result is something that isn’t as shelf stable as Russell Stover or other drugstore candies. Preservatives in those drugstore offerings affect the flavor of the chocolates. When you pit the long-life brands to more perishable high-end chocolates in a blind taste test, the differences are glaringly clear.
Chocolate doesn’t get any fresher than Jouvay, perfected by the Grenada Cocoa Farmers Cooperative based at the rural Diamond Chocolate Factory. The idea was to partner with local farmers working right in the ecosystem to grow the best quality beans. While visiting the 18th-century factory inside a converted rum distillery built by French monks, see the cocoa beans drying on trays under the Caribbean sun. Growers employ a centuries-old French tradition of “walking” the beans—turning them gently by walking over the shells, which are later roasted and removed. Inside the small tasting room, sample each chocolate bar flavor, such as ginger and cocoa nibs. Factory and farm in Victoria, Grenada.
Chocolatier Kee Ling Tong opened her flagship store in New York City’s Soho in 2002 as a combination flower and chocolate shop. Today she has three locations, offering superb handmade chocolates in 40 flavors, including F&W’s Tina Ujlaki and Kate Krader favorite, pyramid-shaped Champagne truffles, made with dark chocolate ganache and Champagne. keeschocolates.com
Anna Shea Chocolates is an experience not to be missed. The flavors, ingredients, technique, and artistry are excellent, including an excellent color chart and playful names. The assortment includes a variety of flavors including fruit, cinnamon, liqueurs, and some playful flavors like red velvet and birthday cake. The assortment was light on nut flavors, which tend to be my favorites.
You can't make a list of popular chocolate brands without including Mars. This incredibly famous worldwide brand is responsible for Snickers, Galaxy, Dove, M&M'S, Milky Way, Twix, 3 Musketeers, and Mars bars. Like Nestlé, Mars focuses on candy bars and confectioneries instead of plain chocolate products. But it definitely offers a combination of chocolate, nougat, caramel, or other ingredients that you won't be able to say no to.
“Wow,” said Krader, biting into one of the company’s flat, square truffles. “This is definitely the chocolate with the most distinct point of view.” By that, she meant that it had perhaps the most unusual flavor of the bunch, with distinctly fruity notes. “This is from someone who’s redefining what truffles can be,” she said. “The flavorings don't punch you in the face, and it tastes like it was just made.” In other words: advanced chocolatiering. “There’s a sophistication about them,” she said. “Truffle neophytes might want something more general.”
At 255 years old, this candy shop on Rue du Faubourg-Montmatre is the oldest in Paris, and luck for everyone who visits, it’s precious façade is historically landmarked and it’s interior lovingly preserved. On the shelves at À La Mère de Famille sit sweets and treats of all kinds, including bars of 100 percent pure origin Venezuelan cocoa. Surprisingly melty and vibrantly aromatic, the plain chocolate is smooth, while the inclusion bars are beautifully strewn by hand with whole hazelnuts, almonds, and tidy little chunks of candied ginger.
The most famous Venezuelan cacao of all comes from Chuao. The trees of Chuao are shielded by mountains from all but the warm Caribbean breezes; the soil is naturally irrigated by three cascading rivers. Doutre-Roussel calls the region “one of the jewels of the earth.” Besides the microclimate, Chuao has centuries-old traditions of harvesting and preparing cacao. First it’s fermented to develop the compounds that will later blossom into rich aromatics, then it’s laid out on the parvis in front of the village church to dry slowly in the sun. Because the farmers worked together as a cooperative, Chuao is one of the only places where a chocolate maker could buy, at one stroke, 9 to 10 tons of uniformly excellent cacao. Until recently, that chocolate maker was Valrhona. Today every last kilo of cacao from Chuao goes to Amedei.
The truffles are packaged in a row, as in the above image (which unfortunately does not convey the triangular shapes well), in a triangular box. A mild drawback is that the box unfolds and opens flat, which is not convenient for holding the remaining truffles until you can eat them. I recommend trying Telluride once. The price is a bit high, although the reasonable shipping price partly compensates for that.
Anette’s Chocolate Factory has a nice variety of chocolates, more than your usual Standard assortment. Examples include the Peach Cobbler, Roasted Hazelnut Morsel, Mint Truffle, Triple Berry, and Himalayan Salted Caramel. They were a bit hit and miss for me, but I would say their milk or dark Ensemble (12 truffles, 18 others) or Anette’s Assorted (30 others) boxes are a good deal.