The Tessieris work about 40 miles west of Florence, close to the Arno, and not far from Pisa; the Italian wine and food magazine Gambero Rosso has called this region the Chocolate Valley because of the concentration of chocolatiers who work there—among them Paul de Bondt, Roberto Catinari and Luca Mannori. The Chocolate Valley is not nearly as famous as other parts of Tuscany. For me, this only increased its allure. While other tourists inched through the vineyards of Chianti staring at the exhaust pipe of the rental car just ahead, I would be lazily bobbing along in a rowboat, dipping pieces of bread over the side into the world’s biggest fondue.
I’ve been a fervent consumer of chocolate my whole life, to the point where I can open up almost any box of assorted bonbons and immediately spot the chewy caramel (it’s usually square). Aside from my personal affinity for bonbons and truffles, I tasted many different brands when they crossed my desk while I was working as a food editor at Martha Stewart. I learned how to quickly spot the difference between inexpensive and high-quality chocolates by looking for a perfect temper, examining ingredients, and, of course, tasting.
Once you select a category, it's easy to use the options on the left side of the page to narrow the chocolates down by price or by dietary need, such as nut-free or gluten-free. You'll find those same possibilities under the Dietary Treats heading; for example, if you know you need a list of just the products that are vegan or organic, you'll be able to see them all at once.
Doreen Pendgracs has spent the past seven years scouring the planet in search of the world’s finest chocolate and most memorable chocolate experiences. She is the author of the award-winning book Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate. She is currently researching the second volume, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate Adventures. Read her writing about the world of chocolate.
These chocolates are unusual, to say the least. Richard Donnelly likes to push the chocolate experience by combining its rich tones — he uses Belgian and French chocolate — with ingredients such as lavender, chipotle, saffron, cardamom, and Earl Grey tea. Such innovation helped Donnelly win the Best Artisan award at the prestigious Euro Chocolate Festival in Perugia, Italy, just ten years after he opened his shop. To maintain quality and ensure freshness, Donnelly produces no more than 50 pounds of chocolate a day. If you need a break from the exotic and unusual flavors, try Donnelly’s white chocolate macadamia nut or a honey vanilla caramel.
My wife and I purchased a Chocolate of the Month Club for her Grandmother who lived in another state. It was a great gift, easy and convenient for us, and as a chocolate lover, she was thrilled. The best part was that every month, when she would receive her next shipment, she would call us and tell us all about it, and it gave us a chance to talk, catch up on her life, and stay connected. We hadn't anticipated the extra benefit of choosing that gift, but we truly appreciated it.
John Scharffenberger, already a big name in the wine world, decided in 1997 to try his hand at artisanal chocolate-making. Using a vintage German melangeur — a machine that slowly grinds cacao beans into a chocolate liquor — and personally sampling beans from more than 150 international cacao farms, he and partner Robert Steinberg sought to bring traditional European chocolate craftsmanship to the States, proudly emphasizing cacao content on the bars' labels — a first for American chocolatiers. The San Francisco team also became the first American bean-to-bar manufacturer in 50 years. Now a member of the Hershey family, Scharffen Berger produces a modest but exquisite selection of bars and tasting squares sold at stores like Whole Foods including a crunchy Milk Chocolate Bar with Sea Salted Almonds.
If you like chocolate bark covered with fresh fruits and nuts, you will go nuts for the chocolate of Paul de Bondt. He was born in Holland and married an Italian, Cecelia. The couple makes international chocolate with flair. Try their lemon lime 64 percent bar made from Madagascar’s finest cacao. Although one can find several outstanding chocolate makers in Tuscany, de Bondt proves noteworthy for his scientific approach to chocolate, offering various percentages of the same cocoa in a series of bars that lets you find just the right nuances for your chocolate preferences. Chocolate and tea shop in Pisa.
Taza chocolate is a breakaway from your run-of-the-mill chocolate bar. The chocolate is round, for starters, and break into slices like a pizza, which is sort of different. The chocolate is also stone-ground, which offers a grittier, grainier feel than more heavily processed chocolate, and reminds you that what your eating came from something of the natural world.
Elk Candy Company makes fine chocolate and marzipan. I do not think marzipan is very interesting when it is plain or merely coated in chocolate, so it is nice to find a chocolatier that has developed their marzipan further, as Elk Candy Company has done with their flavored marzipan rolls. I like marzipan this way. Elk sells it in slices. Flavors include pistachio, truffle, hazelnut, and orange.
For more than 30 years, Seattle-based owner Fran Bigelow has been setting candy trends—she was selling miniature chocolate bars and elegant truffles before they became ubiquitous. Her sweets also have a very high-profile admirer: As a lover of salty-sweet desserts, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels ($12)—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. franschocolates.com
There’s a drinking chocolate for everyone at Elbow Chocolates. There is an unadulterated plain dark chocolate for the purists and one with a hint of vanilla for those who want just a little more depth. You'll also find peppermint drinking chocolate and a spiced drinking chocolate with chilies and cinnamon for those who prefer a little spice in their life.
The best chocolates in Texas are hand-crafted by Kate Weiser in Dallas at her namesake chocolate shop. These confections are gorgeous. Her bonbons (which come in inventive flavors such as lavender apricot, yuzu,and buttery popcorn) are bright and colorful. Kate Weiser Chocolate is perhaps best known for “Carl the Snowman.” Named as one of Oprah’s favorite things, this hollow dark chocolate snowman is filled with hot cocoa mix and mini marshmallows. It makes the dreamiest hot chocolate you could ever imagine.
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.
Some of the Fruity pieces were excellent, particularly the Mango Passionfruit ganache. The fruit flavor was nicely bittersweet and strong with a good peak, complemented by slightly bitter chocolate. The Lime ganache, Raspberry ganache, and Red Berry bouquet coulis were also quite good with strong fruit flavors. The Orange Zest coulis was very interesting. I had the sensation of flavor in the upper palate versus on the tongue. The Apricot coulis flopped, though; it was weak and not sweet enough for me.
Why they're cool: Look, normally these guys cost like a $1 each at the check out counter and I always want to grab the whole box but I can't spend $60 on a last minute craving. Have you had this happen to you? Well look no further because once again Amazon is the answer to our problem. This box of 60 Lindt's melt in your mouth truffles will only cost you 20 cents a pop! You're welcome.
The selection at Chocolate is vast, everything from a simple chocolate-dipped fortune cookie for less than a dollar, to a 200+ piece Valentine's assortment of gluten-free chocolates for over $300. We did notice that none of their categories included two of the most popular “candy holidays”, Halloween and Christmas, but Easter chocolates are sold year-round.