Top-quality chocolate from Africa? Chocolate with coriander and fennel? It all started when Italian chocolatier Valter Bovetti moved to Aubazine, France, in 1994 to debut 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 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 this, the site of the first cacao plantation in Africa, go into Bovetti's high-quality Single Origin bars. The company crafts an impressive collection of more than 150 different kinds of chocolate bars, boasting ingredients like ginger and lavender petal, or for the truly adventurous, dried tomato and chili. Other savory-sweet products include Apéritif Chocolates featuring chocolate-coated fennel, anise seed, rosemary, coriander and mustard.
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.
Each set includes three bars: a Birthday Cake Batter Truffle Bar, a Thanks-olate Truffle Bar and a Here’s to You Truffle Bar. The cake batter bar has a white center mixed with colorful confetti pieces that’s coated in milk chocolate. It tastes like yellow cake with vanilla frosting. The Thanks-olate bar is milk chocolate mixed with toffee pieces and sea salt. The Here’s to You bar is dark chocolate mixed with popping candy that explodes as you eat it.
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.
Sweet Girl Cookies will make you feel like a kid again, that is, if you’re like me and always tried (and still try) to choose the biggest cookie on the cookie plate. These gourmet cookies are generously big—4.4 ounces, and they cry out to be enjoyed with a big glass of milk or cup of coffee for dunking. Each cookie tends toward a dense cake-like rather than chewy texture, and each flavor is packed with chips. The middle of these cookies (even their “smaller” 2 ounce cookies) is one inch thick. We measured.
I delayed sampling The Truffle Shop because the prices and shipping costs are so high, amounting to $7 per 1.3-ounce truffle when six truffles are ordered. The amaretto truffle may have been worth the experience once in a lifetime, but I have to say the rest are overpriced. The $25.50 cost for six truffles includes wonderful packaging: a nice gift wrap on the box, individually wrapped truffles in hand-assembled cups and wraps and rings. The presentation is exquisite. The $15.95 shipping paid for two-day FedEx, styrofoam packaging, and an unnecessary gel refrigerant in January, with no cheaper option available.
At $120 a pound, Maison du Chocolat ($60 for 28 pieces) is pretty expensive chocolate, but it’s some of the best we’ve ever tasted. These are bonbons for the chocolate purist because you can still really taste the chocolate in each one. Even in the raspberry ganache, which is so packed with fresh flavor that you could swear you just ate the perfect raspberry, the complexity of the chocolate still comes through. The ganaches are incredibly smooth and the chocolate that comprises the shell is perfectly tempered, giving a very satisfying “snap” on first bite. The flavors, though, are more traditional than our main pick’s. While every chocolate in the Recchiuti box pleasantly surprised us, the Maison chocolates, although excellent, aren’t as adventurous. For a Valentine’s or romantic gift, we feel the Recchiuti make a better choice.
Visiting the Republica del Cacao should be on every chocoholic's bucket list! The youngest company among our selections, the Republica del Cacao is an Ecuadorian chocolate firm founded in 2004. The brand arose out of an effort to preserve the indigenous Arriba cacao plants grown predominantly on family farms in the Manabí, Los Ríos and El Oro regions of Ecuador. Republica del Cacao's claim to fame is their single-origin dark chocolate bar, made with nothing but cacao, sugar and cocoa butter, allowing the complex flavors of each region's chocolate to speak for themselves. The company has also branched out into beverages like hot cocoa, coffee and chocolate- and coffee-flavored liqueurs.
Norman Love Confections: Chef Norman Love’s chocolates always have a tropical high toned fruitiness to them—even his dark selections. We loved his holiday candy cane selection (which comes in a fetching candy cane-shaped box.) The sleek, lustrous very colorful chocolates won big for shock and awe—they also tasted great too. This was one of the most festive and fun collections that we opened.
Connecticut is apparently so well known for its chocolate shops that it has a bona fide tour route for sweet confections called the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. So how does Bridgewater Chocolate in West Hartford stand apart from the crowd? Its stunning packaging, for one. But the chocolate tortels, truffles and dark chocolate-covered cherries on a milk chocolate heart are luxurious and rich.
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