French Broad: This chocolatier opened in Asheville in 2007 and does a nice job of giving the chocolate lover a big truffle for the buck. These were some of the largest truffles we tasted. Their Buddha Collection’s vegan truffle was a favorite (composed of bitter sweet chocolate and coconut cream), lending the truffle a nice exotic edge. The Lavender and honey from the signature collection box—a milk chocolate ganache around a dark chocolate ganache blended with local honey and lavender—was the a delicious riff on lavender. The mole negro—housemade mole in dark chocolate and rolled in sesame seeds—great texture and spice.
Chocolate contributes more than $700 million to the Ecuadorian economy. A single 1.8 ounce bar of the finest chocolate divided into 12 squares will set customers back more than $250. For the adventurous chocoholics who want to see chocolate production from seed to bar, the Cacao Route offers the opportunity to visit cacao farms and eventually eat chocolate in a number of dishes as well as sweet and bitter bars. Cacao Route tours take place near the Pacific coast, with options to tour the Organic Cacao Museum, horseback ride along the path and visit plantations and packing facilities, as well as in the Amazon, which features spa treatments at the Papallacta
Guests of The Hotel Hershey who arrive via the registration lobby need to know that a more exotic space resides just one floor above. The hotel’s Fountain Lobby is an eye-grabbing, Mediterranean-themed gathering spot. It looks much like it did when it opened in the 1930s, based on a hotel Milton Hershey had visited in the Mediterranean. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
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.
Chuao Chocolatier: (pronounced chew-wow) This company specializes in textural surprise. The whiz kid behind the firecracker truffle (chipotle caramel fudge with sea salt and popping candy) likes to thread in a secret layer of heat that doesn’t hit until the finish so you get the full-on rich chocolaty pleasure with a spank of fun at the end. The other favorite in this tasting was the Salted Chocolate Crunch with toasted panko breadcrumbs, olive oil ganache and a dusting of sea salt—a truly devilish bit. Owners (and brothers) Michael and Richard Antonorsi. also hail from Venezuela.
Lifelong enthusiasts, they grew cacao plants in their apartments and made small batches in their Palo Alto garage. After two years of taste tests, they took their handmade dark chocolate public, opening Dandelion Chocolate in 2012. Located in San Francisco’s eclectic Mission district, their factory turns out 2,500 single-origin 70 percent cacao bars per week. Their releases, which change frequently with the season, source cacao from places as far-flung as Venezuela, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea.
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.
We cut the chocolates into quarters so that more than one person could taste all of the offerings while also trying to avoid palate fatigue. While this may sound like a silly problem, it can be quite frustrating when your taste buds become overstimulated mid-tasting and fail you. To try to limit this, Saltines and club soda were set out to help tasters pace themselves.

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