At their Brooklyn, New York, factory, the bearded brothers Rick and Michael Mast create fantastic single-origin dark chocolate bars that are wrapped in custom-printed paper and named after the sources of the cacao beans, such as Papua New Guinea, Moho River, Sambirano Valley, and La Red de Guaconejo. “They’re interesting, and certainly showcase the tangy, tropical, terroir-driven flavors of chocolate,” says F&W’s Kristin Donnelly. mastbrothers.com
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).
The Pistachio Marzipan and Bandol Breeze (apricot pâte de fruit and marzipan) were too weak for my taste, but most of Jacques Torres’ pieces had both good non-chocolate and chocolate flavors. The Golden Espresso was another very good piece. Mom’s Chocolate Peanut Brittle did not quite work for me, but Grandma’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch was excellent, with a great roasted peanuts flavor and complementing chocolate. In spite of my few quibbles I, most of Torres’ pieces are done to near perfection, and I would class Torres with Burdick. Both are near the same quality. Burdick uses a bit more exotic flavors while Torres takes familiar flavors to great heights.
Stars with a blast of rich but DRY cocoa powder (the kind used in baking). This fades down into a less powdery and dry cocoa scent, where the vanilla begins to peek through. Unfortunately, the performance of this scent on my skin is fairly weak. It doesn't project off of me at all. Despite the other notes listed, I really only smell the cocoa powder.
We saved the biggest for last. Levain’s gourmet cookies push the limits of the definition of cookie. They have been described as “Molten Cookie Dough” for their barely baked middles that ooze with warm, sweet goodness. Weighing in at 6 ounces each they are the size of generous muffin tops. Each flavor is rich, buttery, super-decadent. We had the fun of standing in line to enter the teeny tiny New York store to order one of each flavor—Chocolate Chip Walnut, Oatmeal Raisin, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. I was lucky to have a posse of eager tasters with me. The edges have a slightly crisp cookie texture that gives way to an interior of cookie/cake-y crumb. The cookie’s center is a barely baked oooey goooey celebration of sweet. This is not a cookie for the faint of heart.
Belgian chocolate is perhaps one of the most popular European chocolates in the world. Donckels Belgian chocolate truffles truly highlight this, with their fine Belgian truffles, dusted with cocoa powder. They have a soft, creamy texture. The high-quality chocolate more than makes up for the relatively high price. One small issue with these truffles is transport. In some instance, the truffles were not cooled properly during the transport, causign the truffles to fuse together. It makes them less than ideal if you’re looking for gourmet chocolates to gift. But the chocolate is just as delicious, even if the truffles lose their shape.
I was introduced to Alegio Chocolate on a chocolate crawl and bought a selection to taste at home. The Raspberry had a good balance with strong raspberry and good chocolate working together. The Orange was similar but slightly milder. The Santa Domingo is an unusal combination of green olive, licorice, currants, and apricot. Those flavors actually stood to the side a bit to present the chocolate at center stage. The Espresso worked well with a slightly salted caramel. The Habeñero had a little bite to it, while the Honey was of course sweet. Throughout the pieces, distinct chocolate flavors were presented well.
Ferrero Rocher is perhaps one of the most famous and popular choclate makers in the world with the confectionary produced by the Italian chocolatier Ferrero SpA. The chocolates were first introduced in Europe back in 1982 by Michael Ferrero and is world famous for its truffle bars of milk chocolate and generous hazelnut helpings. The balls consist of whole roasted hazelnuts within a thin wafer shell covered in the best quality milk chocolates and topped off with chopped hazelnuts.
Katalin Csiszar and her husband, Zsolt Szabad, began the award-winning Rozsavolgyi in their home in Budapest in 2004. They source beans from Venezuela growers, and roast them very lightly to preserve their true flavors. Only organic cane sugar and a small amount of of cocoa butter goes in before they are formed into intricate patterns meant to mimic fireplace tiles, and wrapped by hand in paper that looks like your chic grandma’s vintage silk scarf. Purists rave about their Criollo and Trincheras bars, but those who like surprises go for inclusions like olives and bread, and flavors of Japanese matcha, and Indian masala spices.
Chocolat Céleste is a mixed bag; I have enjoyed some pieces but not all (relative to experienced expected for the price), and prices have escalated. I suggest the Grand Cru collection. Although pricey, $139/lb. in 2012, it is a rare opportunity to taste criollo (a type of cacao, from which chocolate is made). I enjoyed the criollo pieces in the collection. They should be approached as a tasting experience: Cleanse your palate with water, smell, taste, let the chocolate dissolve, and take the time to experience it. The collection also has non-criollo pieces that I found a bit flat and dry compared to the criollo.
The praline/hazelnut mix starts to emerge in the background quickly after application. Hazelnut alone is more familiar, and I like to think I would've pointed it out without knowing about it ahead of time, but the addition of praline makes for a more nuanced and alien blend, albeit very desirable and certainly not taking much away from the cocoa-dominance of the fragrance.
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).
Bissinger’s toffee is pretty good. The pieces in their French Collection and Signature Classic assortments were good quality but did not have a lot of flavor for me. For example, I did not taste much blackberry in the Blackberry Caramel, and the Pecan Nut Ball was too sweet with not enough nut flavor. The price is high for Standard chocolates; you can get some nice Fine chocolate at the same price.
What’s fun about ordering cookies from Milk Jar is the ability to create a custom box and choose from 15 different flavors that include Banana Split, Birthday Cake, Rocky Road, and White Chocolate Raspberry. Or skip the pressure of choosing and just order the popular assorted box. Order as few as a half dozen ($15) to up to two dozen for online orders ($60). Need more than two dozen? Just give them a call.
Founder Colin Gasko is running a small but ambitious operation. Each single-origin chocolate bar at Rogue is sourced from independent farms in Peru, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras. Unlike other fair-trade chocolate purveyors, Rogue pays more than twice the minimum for some of its cacao order to ensure the lasting success of those farms. Thanks to its small production, Rogue doesn’t always have a wide array available to purchase online, but each bar tastes like something special. Three Rivers, MA
The Wild Strawberry was also strong, very nice for strawberry. Some pieces were classics like the House Dark and some were playful like the PB & Jelly or the Speculous S’more, and they were all well done, not a false note among them. My biggest flavor criticism might be that the Gianduja Hazelnut was a little sharp for hazelnut, whereas I prefer a broader, smoother flavor.
K’s 4-star review: Champagne Truffles are amazing. When you shop in the store, they have "mini" truffles which are even better. I absolutely recommend these as a highlight of a trek along 5th Ave (among other distractions). Other chocolates from the case weren't as impressive (or disappointing: the triple-layer gianduja was dry and crumbled apart in the bag). Oh, and don't expect that the chocolate will be packaged nicely with a self-selected assortment: you get a clear plastic baggy like you just bought bulk dime store candy. Otherwise, staff was courteous and helpful. So, yay! I'm a fan of one piece! Rather generous rating for one piece ... ah well.
It is National Chocolate Day, the perfect occasion on which to suggest a line-up of the 15 best chocolate bars in the whole world. This is a personal choice and it is en extremely subjective topic. But as a judge at the International Chocolate Awards and a Grand Jury judge at the Academy of Chocolate awards I have tasted a lot of chocolate - and these are my favourites, in reverse order of my opinion of their deliciousness.