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Christopher Elbow ($35 for 16 pieces) was our top pick for 2014. In a blind tasting, a panel voted it their favorite. In the most recent tasting, the chocolates came across as too sweet and the flavors a little heavy-handed. While they are absolutely beautiful—the chocolates resemble baubles and jewels—they were squeezed out of the top spots by this year’s contenders.
Truffles appear a few times on any gourmet chocolate list and many chocoholics consider them to be a standard for the gourmet category. These truffles are made by Miami Beach and it’s clear they’ve put a lot of thought into both taste and presentation. They use ingredients of the highest quality in each truffle and to top off the great taste they also have a variety of service options. Consumers can choose various preparation methods from kosher to vegan so that even those with dietary restrictions don’t have to miss out on great gourmet taste. To top everything off, the price for these truffles is pleasantly average.
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 phrase dark chocolate sea salt caramels should be a selling point in itself, but these bite-size treats also have something else going for them: they have almost 500 five-star reviews on online. And there’s a reason why. They make other salty-sweet chocolate-caramel combos seem lackluster in comparison. One reviewer said they have a “bold saltiness” that’s “not for the faint of heart” and another said, “My favorite candy ever!” The creamy, rich caramel is cooked to just the right consistency and the smooth chocolate goes perfectly with the visible salt flakes on top.
For their new chocolate line, che Thomas Keller and olive oil icon Armando Manni are ratcheting up the intrinsic health benefits of cocoa beans and EVOO. The chocolate is made according to the same "live" principles Manni designed for his cultish oils--a method developed with the University of Florence to minimize heat exposure and retain antioxidants throughout processing. The two tapped former pastry chef Chi Bui (Daniel, Le Bernardin) to perfect the blockbuster bars, which double down on the antioxidant power with a finishing hit of Manni oil. The first release includes three bars, from Madagascar, Peru and Ecuador ($14.95); the latter is our favorite--uniquely floral, with a lush, velvety texture. williams-sonoma.com
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.