It's been a couple years since we last updated our report on the best chocolate, but with Valentine's Day right around the corner, it's time to revisit this sweet topic. We're talking about boxed chocolate -- as opposed to bar chocolate or baking chocolate -- the kind you can wrap nicely (or not) and give to your sweetheart. Since our last report went up in 2008, several reviews have been published. But will they affect our current choices for best chocolate?
So much chocolate, so little time
A number of reliable food magazines and websites have weighed in on choosing the best chocolate. In reading these reviews, a few things became clear. For one, price matters -- to a point. There are a lot of chocolate brands out there, some very cheap (usually with quality to match) and some very expensive. In most reviews, costly gourmet brands tend to come out on top. But a couple of sources also cite makers like Hershey's as well.
Variety also matters, but less than you may think. Some reviewers love the unusual flavor combinations that chocolatiers like Recchiuti use (think tarragon-grapefruit or sesame nougat), while others prefer tried-and-true confections like solid milk chocolates or the turtles that have made Bridgewater a favorite. While not every expert agrees on every chocolate we recommend, most of them concur on at least one ConsumerSearch pick.
Bridgewater, L.A. Burdick, Fran's Chocolates are critical faves
Rachel Ray magazine hews closest to our recommendations in their taste test, giving the nod to Bridgewater Chocolate, L.A. Burdick and Fran's Chocolates, among others. All three of these chocolatiers produce sweets that many people would consider traditional -- solids, cream or nut centers, caramels and so on -- and all of them are cited repeatedly in reviews as producing good chocolates.
Gourmet chocolates in exotic flavors not for all tastes
About.com's guide to candy recommends 10 different chocolates, among them Recchiuti Confections, which we named the best gourmet chocolate for connoisseurs. Chocolatier Michael Recchiuti experiments with flavors such as honeycomb, malt, ginger and herbs. Reviewer Elizabeth LeBau calls these creations "a nice change from traditional boxed chocolates," although she (like other reviewers) is not fond of all flavors.
If exotic chocolates are your thing, SlashFood.com recommends the Vosges Exotic Heart Truffle Collection. This collection is definitely not for the faint at heart, with flavors including Oxaca (chocolate and chili powder), Absinthe (dark chocolate, fennel and anise) and the Hungarian (dark chocolate and paprika). As one editor put it, "My grandma would hate this, but I'd want it for myself." Vosges creations also get a nod from Reuters and Huffington Post blogger Karen Leland. (Note: About.com owns ConsumerSearch, but no editorial affiliation is shared.)
If your sweetheart (or grandma) prefers something more traditional, SlashFood editors also recommend Hershey's Pot of Gold Premium Chocolate Assortment, a mix of dark and milk chocolates, and the tried-and-true Whitman's Sampler. Canadian shopping gurus Kristina Matisic and Anna Wallner are less impressed with Hershey's, calling it "a little on the sweet side." They name chocolates from Bernard Callbraut their top pick, describing them as "rich, smooth and decadent" with "amazing" fillings.
Our take on the best chocolates
In general, our Best Reviewed choices hold up well in light of new reviews. Although they're pricey, critics suggest Vosges chocolates would make a decent alternative to Recchiuti. If you're looking for something plain and simple, Hershey's Pot of Gold Premium Chocolate Assortment may hit the sweet spot, too.
More about chocolate
Martha Stewart discusses how to choose gourmet chocolates on her blog.
Food Network host Ted Allen shares tips for hosting a chocolate-tasting party.
Prefer to cook with chocolate? Epicurious.com offers 14 favorite chocolate recipes for Valentine's Day.
Not sure which wine to pair with chocolate? TheNibble.com prints a massive chart describing the best pairings for everything from bittersweet chocolate to exotic filled varieties.