Nearly everyone loves chocolate. It's an aphrodisiac and bona fide health food, high in antioxidants and healthy fats, and makes the perfect Valentine's Day gift to anyone in your life. According to RetailMeNot, 39% of people are planning to purchase chocolate as a gift for the holiday. Here are a few of my favorite unique chocolate brands and products to try.
This family-owned and run Kansas City chocolate shop has been making Swiss chocolate candies and confections since 1955. Chocolatier René Bollier represents the third generation for the family, serving as president and executive chef after training at some of the best pastry shops in Switzerland. From chocolate covered almonds and orange peel wedges to salted caramels and chocolate dipped tea cookies, the gifting selection is endless. There's even a Kansas City whiskey caramel sauce that tastes great drizzled over ice cream or added to hot chocolate. For Valentine's Day, they're offering a virutal cheese and chocolate tasting with Green Dirt Farm, Missouri’s top cheesemaker, that specializes in sheep's milk cheese. If the selection is overwhelming, you won't go wrong with the new date night gift box either.
Venezuelan sisters Susana and Isabel Garcia Nevett use only the best Venezuelan chocolate for their chocolate confections. The Miami-based master chocolatiers are making hand-painted chocolate hearts, a chocolate s'mores kit and mini chocolate hearts filled with Nutella for Valentine's Day. This year, the Nevett sisters have been inspired by outer spaace for their Valentine's Day designs. The chocolate heart is resting on chocolate covered crunchy caramels painted to look a little like moon rocks. “ It’s a little edgier Valentine’s, but it looks cool,” says Isabel.
SoChatti brings a chocolate maker's experience to your home, allowing you to keep warm melted chocolate on tap, which is the best way to enjoy chocolate's complex flavors. With a SoChatti warmer and tasting kit, you can try 72% dark chocolate from Honduras, Peru, Trinidad and Tanzania in liquid form, great for drizzling over pancakes, croissants or dessert, making mochas, or for dipping fresh fruit. Founder Matt Rubin spent five years developing his innovative chocolate making process (and has 28 patents pending), which simultaneously grinds and conchs the cacao beans at a lower temperature in order to preserve the most flavor. All the chocolate, and the warmers, are made in Indianapolis and SoChatti just opened their first tasting room in the Circle City Industrial Complex mid-December. Stop by for complimentary chocolate tastings, or conduct your own tasting at home.
Based in Portland, Oregon, Honey Mama's crafts the most indulgent superfood chocolate bars you can imagine, made with ingredients like raw chocolate, raw honey, sprouted almonds and unrefined coconut oil. The creamy texture of these cacao-nectar bars simply melt in your mouth, like the inside of a truffle without the pesky outer shell. Organic raw honey is the first ingredient in all of their bars, and they recently launched a new line of single serve bars. Honey Mama's newest flavor, tahini tangerine, is the first to use organic sesame seeds, balancing nuttiness with a pop of citrus. It's hard to believe something that tastes this good can actually be good for you.
Venchi is the most famous fine chocolate brand in Italy, headquartered in Piedmont (where you find the best Italian hazelnuts) with boutiques worldwide. They are best known for their chococaviar, truffles, cremini, giandiuotti and colorfully individually wrapped truffles, all made with the best ingredients imported from Italy. Their Suprema chocolate hazelnut spread is the fine dining version of Nutella and there are excellent dark chocolate bars studded with toasted cacao nibs for cacao purists as well. Venchi just opened their second New York boutique in Columbus Circle, which is worth visiting for freshly churned gelato and rich hot chocolate, but in the meantime you can get most of their chocolate shipped straight to your door. For Valentine's Day, there are special heart-shaped boxes with assorted milk and dark chocolate hearts.
One of the newest small-batch chocolatiers in the country, Disset Chocolate is based on Long Island's North Fork, a new venture by Ursula XVII to craft seasonal chocolate bonbon collections using exclusively Valrhona chocolate. Ursula has honed her craft in some of the finest restaurants in the United States and Spain, including Blackbird, Per Se, The Modern and Ca L'Enric. Her signature collection includes whimsical flavors like banana walnut bread and raspberry black sesame while a special 12-piece Valentine's Day collection features raspberry rose, strawberry black pepper and salted caramel bonbons.
Seattle's favorite fair trade bean-to-bar chocolate maker has created a couple of new flavors for Valentine's Day. Their salted black licorice 70% dark chocolate bar and raspberry cocoa nib 55% dark chocolate bar will be available for a limited time only, decorated in lovey dovey pink wrappers. They're also partnering with Pearl Jam again to support the release of the second night of their 2018 Home Shows concert for streaming online. Theo Chocolate created a custom Seattle-inspired caramels box wrapped in a Pearl Jam Home Shows commemorative sleeve with proceeds from the sales going to the Vitology Foundation to fight homelessness.
AlterEco is known for making sustainable, organic and fair trade chocolate bars and truffles accessible to the masses with national distribution in grocery stores and on Amazon. Raspberry Blackout is newest flavor for Valentine's Day, an 85% dark chocolate with just four grams of sugar per serving. The tart sweetness of real organic raspberries is a nice contrast to the earthy dark chocolate – like a chocolate-dipped berry in bar form.
If you prefer your chocolate to be boozy, the rum-infused treats by Oodaalolly and Don Papa Rum will hit the spot. There's a 70% dark chocolate bar made with single-origin trinitario Filipino cacao grown in the Davao region. The nibs were soaked in seven year aged rum then sweetened with a touch of Philippine coconut sugar for a toasty caramel finish. If you prefer your chocolate to be soft and sensual, try the Don Papa-infused rum truffles, with rich chocolate mousse enrobed in an even darker chocolate shell. Like Oodaalolly's chocolate, Don Papa Rum is also made in the Philippines, aged in American oak in the foothills of Mount Kanlaon, then charcoal filtered before it's blended, for a honeyed fruit finish.
Another fun boozy option is the limited edition chocolate and tequila pairing featuring small-batch sipping tequila producer Casa Dragones and bean-to-bar chocolate maker Dandelion Chocolate. The gift set includes a bottle of Casa Dragones Joven, a 100% Blue Agave silver and extra aged tequila in a crystal decanter, accompanied by a packaged set of single-origin chocolate bars from Ecuador, Colombia and Belize specifically selected to pair with the tequila. "The pairing balances notes of Casa Dragones Joven, such as hazelnut and pear, with notes of the chocolate such as tart cherry, buttery mango and unsweetened cacao—for an unexpected and luxurious tasting experience," says Casa Dragones Tequila CEO and co-founder Bertha González Nieves.