You can never have too many choices when it comes to chocolate. This Belgian chocolate box provides an amazing assortment of dark, milk, and white chocolate in an elegant gold box with a bow on top. You'll get 19 chocolate pieces that include favorites like 50 percent dark demitasse, chocolate hazelnut praline, praline crescents, and coconut macaroons covered in dark chocolate. If 19 pieces simply aren't enough to satisfy your taste buds, you can trade up for a 140-piece box (or one of the many sizes in between).
In 2005, when John Grahm took over this mid-century Los Angeles shop where Marilyn Monroe once purchased her sweets, he fashioned it into an edgy and modern version of Old Hollywood elegance. Partnering with designer Kelly Wearstler, Grahm created a line of stunning bars covered in edible crystal, filled with tortilla chips and cayenne pepper, and flavored with balsamic vinegar. But tradition still rules at Compartés, so everything is handmade and people (not machines) do the packaging.
In 1948, Michel Cluizel took over his family's pastry business in Normandy, France, where travelers still flock to learn the secrets of chocolate-making at his "Chocolatrium." In 2012, Cluizel opened a second Chocolatrium; in West Berlin, New Jersey. (The only other American outlet is their Manhattan storefront.) Visitors to the European and American Chocolatriums (or is that Chocolatria?) are walked through the chocolate creation process and the history of the Cluizel brand, offered a sneak peek into the Cluizel workshop, then feast on fanciful bonbons like caramel mushrooms, "cappuccinos" filled with coffee ganache and macarolats — macaroons with different flavored coatings and fillings.
Chocolate Museum in Bruges, participate in a workshop in Brussels, and even stay in hotels with chocolate bath products. Walking tours of the many chocolate shops will help shave off a few calories. Schedule a factory tour at select producers such as Le Chocolatier Manon, Cyril Chocolat or Chocolaterie Defoidmont, or take in a chocolate- and praline-making demonstration at one of the shops.
Nobody knows for sure how many chocolate shops there are in the U.S. today, at least in part because many of them do double duty as patisseries, ice cream parlors, or gift shops. Suffice to say that there is probably not a city or a town of any size in the country that doesn’t boast at least one purveyor of specialty chocolates, and many places have more. There are at least 80 of them in New York City, for instance, and more than 30 in Los Angeles.
As its name suggests, Denver’s The Chocolate Lab combines the worlds of science and chocolate into one culinary experience. You’re not going to find an abundance of sea salt caramels and vanilla creme chocolates here. Instead, you can get handmade truffles with unique flavors such as Humboldt fog cheese, duck fat caramel and bacon, absinthe-fennel and cornflake chili. The Chocolate Lab also features a restaurant with savory favorites like scallops, charred cauliflower and linguine — all infused with chocolate.
You can’t go wrong with anything at Vande Walle’s Candies in Appleton, Wisconsin; the chocolate is so high-quality and delicious that everything is great. This local candy shop is best known for its angelfood candies, with a light, airy center that melts in your mouth. Their truffle chocolate bars, with a classic chocolate outside and smooth, velvety interior, are also a highlight.
One of the oldest candy businesses in the country, Schimpff’s Confectionary in Jeffersonville, Indiana, is half chocolate shop, half museum, which makes it a charming tourist destination on its own. Beyond the collection of candy-making history here, the chocolates are old-fashioned and scrumptious. Don’t leave without picking up some caramel-covered marshmallows, which are called “mojeskas” in this part of the country.
Chocolate with coriander and fennel? It all started in 1994 when Italian chocolatier Valter Bovetti established a factory in Aubazine, France. There he debuted his trademark chocolate candies shaped as nails and tools. In 2006, Bovetti and five fellow chocolate-makers visited Sao Tome, an African island in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Gabon. The island was called the “chocolate island,” which inspired them to found a fair trade association named Roca Cacao. The organization bought harvesting equipment for twelve plantations and ensured a living wage for their 120 employees. Beans from the site of the first cacao plantation in Africa, go into Bovetti’s high-quality Single Origin bars.
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.
Exactly when and where the first chocolate shops opened in America is uncertain, but early contenders for the honor include The Original Velatis, which set up shop selling caramels (some of them involving chocolate) in 1866 in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Govatos, which went into business in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1894 (both are still going strong; see slideshow).
Richart’s Intense Valentine Gourmet Chocolates are $77 for a box of 49 chocolates. The real frustration here is that it's 49, not 50, so those of us with a strong sense of symmetry will have to eat them quickly just to cope. However, they are legitimate French Chocolates, each one having one of seven fancy flavors / aromas - floral, spicy, citrus, balsm, roasted, fruity, or herbal. The box also comes with a dark chocolate plaque for your valentine, so maybe that's piece 50.
The gourmet cookies from San Francisco’s Salty Sweet Bakery are for the cookie-loving kid in you with tastes that are all grown up. You’ll know it from your first bite as the cookie flavors reveal themselves like a chorus line of CanCan dancers on your tongue that finishes with the ephemeral taste of real vanilla and the final flirty curtain call of salt. These sweet but not too sweet cookies tend toward the soft-baked to chewy spectrum. Each are topped with a sprinkle of delicate sea salt flakes.
Over the chocolate shop has an unmistakeable woody, rough powdery texture to it, much like actual cocoa powder, and about the same darkness of it. The hazelnut further adds to this coarse, almost woody feel. The coffee is just noticable enough to amplify the chocolate. This has a certain HEAT to it, like there's the tiniest bit of chili. It also lasts the longest of these four on my skin.
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).
Some pieces I liked were the dark chocolate Palets d’Or, Le Cocktail (with a blend of nuts, was what fine chocolate should be but not the oustanding piece I expected from Bernachon’s reputation), Le Métis (praline, marzipan, and pistachio, was an unusual melange and interesting), L’Aveline (hazelnut praline, was very good with sharp flavors that were not overpoweringly strong), La Truffe (a very good truffle), Le Chuao Pepitos (strong chocolate), La Nougatine (good caramel), and La Truffette (an orange flavor that blends well with the chocolate).
This North End chocolate and nut shop run by two childhood friends features a variety of artisan chocolates by local and national chocolatiers as well as gourmet nut mixes, health bars, and specialty snacks, as well as vegan and gluten-free chocolates. Tasting days give the opportunity to try anything from Pure 7’s dark chocolate peppermint bar to Northlight Baking Co.’s macarons.
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.
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.