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.
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.
Pastry chef Jacques Torres left Manhattan’s Le Cirque in 2000 to open his own chocolate factory. Torres now runs a chocolate empire that includes two production facilities, six NYC outposts and one in Atlantic City. F&W editors Kate Krader and Tina Ujlaki, resident chocolate experts, especially love Torres’s milk chocolate-covered Cheerios ($8.50) and caramel chocolate popcorn, an addictively salty-sweet snack. mrchocolate.com
With traditions and recipes based in the Netherlands, Chocolaterie Stam makes some of the most exquisite chocolates in the entire United States, let alone Des Moines, Iowa. You can’t go wrong with any of their bonbons or truffles, which are so rich and decadent that you’ll think you’re truly in Europe. The corn-shaped milk chocolate with a hazelnut praline filling is the perfect nod to Iowa and is just as tasty as it looks.
In the lofty strata where Tessieri operates, “making chocolate” means that you make the chocolate. You import cacao beans from plantations. You roast them and husk them and grind the cacao nibs into a fine paste. You add sugar and grind some more. Finally you swirl the mixture in open tanks called conches, which smooths the texture while helping to blow off acids and other nasty flavors. It’s complicated, demanding work, and few small companies even attempt it.
The 36-piece assortment I ordered from William Dean Chocolates contained a broad selection of chocolates and flavors, from the familiar peanut butter or even childhood favorite peanut butter and jelly, to fine lavender or port and plum. The Port and Plum was one of my favorites of the box. The flavors interplayed nicely and had some depth. The Mexican Mango was a very nice mango puree with a little bit of spiceness. The PB Krunch had a strong peanut flavor roasted just right. The WD 64%, a straight chocolate piece, was another of my favorites.
The O chocolates are more of a novelty, disks with a thin filling. While the flavors are okay, the fillings are too small to contribute much. So I leave these pieces to people who just want chocolate with a little bit of something else. At £42/lb., they do not enjoy the same price attractiveness as the Couture chocolates. I did not try the truffles or salted caramels but suspect you will not go wrong sampling them.
Cecilia Tessieri — one of the world’s few female chocolatiers — makes some of the most expensive chocolate in the world. Since opening its doors in 1990, the Tuscany-based brand Amedei has contributed to a $27,000 cupcake in Dubai and a $1,000 sundae at New York’s Serendipity. Tessieri also makes an eclectic line of pralines, and excellent bars such as the Cru Madagascar Extra Dark Chocolate (70 percent) or Chuao Bar (70 percent). We like the limited-edition Porcelana bar, which you can get for around $25.
Juan enjoys Åkesson's Single Plantation Chocolate, Madagascar, Bejofo Estate, 75%, made with Criollo cocoa (the world's most precious and celebrated variety) grown in northwest Madagascar. "It distinguishes itself with well-defined aromas and flavors. But I especially enjoy the balance of its smooth and creamy texture – that makes it unforgettable."
Lots of colors, artsy treats and premium quality chocolates can be expected at Norman Love Confections in Florida, USA. The chocolatier was founded in 2001 by Norman Love. Norman used to work in the corporate world before the idea of the chocolate venture germinated in his mind. He was always passionate about chocolates and the experiments to embellish these heavenly eatables. He co-owns the chocolatier with his wife Mary. Today, Norman’s scrumptious and beautiful creations reach the international territories and bring back loads of appreciations.
Vosges ($40 for 16 pieces) is famous for round truffles with exotic, unexpected combinations like wasabi with black sesame and even Taleggio cheese with walnuts. Their bacon bar is beloved by many people we talked to, but their assorted chocolates weren’t as well received. Funniest comment: “Cumin?? That’s a mean trick!” Vosges are available in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
A mural of Milton S. Hershey adorns The Hershey Story Museum, which tells the story of Hershey’s rise to become one of the top chocolatiers in the world. Born on a Pennsylvania farm in 1857, Hershey eventually turned to chocolates and used fresh farm milk to mass-produce milk chocolate, which was until then a luxury confection. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
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.