As a food-motivated travel editor, I’ve tasted a lot of chocolate. Rarely do I outright loathe anything; equally rarely do I fall so hard for something I feel an immediate and almost annoying need to share it with everyone I know.
But that was my experience two weeks ago at the Good Food Awards, the Bay Area show that, each year, identifies the top food craftspeople in the United States based on both taste and sustainability. It was 8:15 a.m. The winners’ marketplace—where the 2018 medalists could share samples with the public—had just opened. I was wandering around, taking it all in when I came upon the Eat Chic Chocolates booth. Chocolate seemed like a good place to start. Life’s short and all, right? A woman handed me a nickel-size wedge of a peanut-butter cup. The moment I placed it in my mouth, I knew there was no going back. Dark chocolate, peanut butter that tasted freshly made, a generous sprinkle of sea salt—it was, hands-down, the best peanut-butter cup I’ve ever tasted. Naturally, I handed over my credit card and asked for more.
How did I not know about Eat Chic? I wondered. Stumbling upon a fantastic artisanal cheese, beer, spirit, or chocolate is one of the delights of traveling, but unless you travel full-time, you miss out on some of the country’s best regional producers. I dedicated the rest of that morning to tasting as much chocolate as possible (such sacrifice, I know).
Here are a just a handful of my favorites (drool over the complete list here). Whether or not you do V-day, the following six confections are worth sharing with those you love. All are available online, although many of these makers have a brick-and-mortar store or sell at specialty shops around the country.
Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup with Maldon Sea Salt, Eat Chic Chocolates, New York
This year, I’m gifting these to all the PB-chocolate lovers in my life, including the vegan ones. Chocolatier Lotta Andonian nailed the Reese’s-gone-posh vibe. She fills organic—and naturally dairy-free—dark chocolate shells with a homemade peanut butter (she even roasts the nuts) and caps the whole thing with a dusting of Maldon sea salt.
Coconut Dream Bar & Mayan Spice Bar, Mayana Chocolate, Wisconsin
These bars will forever ruin you for all other candy bars—not a risk to take lightly, but definitely a risk worth taking. Both are excellent. The Coconut Dream Bar, a combination of coconut cookie, salted caramel, more coconut flakes, and chocolate is a classic expression of devotion. The Mayan Spice Bar, with its salted caramel and tortilla chip crunch, is perhaps better for the wild at heart.
Matcha Mint Bar, Alma Chocolate, Portland, Oregon
I’ve been a fan of Alma since they started selling at the Portland farmers’ market in 2005. They have a beautiful storefront now and regularly pop up on best-of lists, but owner Sarah Hart and her team of chocolatiers have retained their obsessive focus on making very good, very creative chocolates that look damn fine to boot. Like this sophisticated, unusual take on the classic after-dinner mint.
Dark Chocolate Sauce, Fran’s, Seattle, Washington
Fran’s has been around for what seems like a million years (really just 36) and still manages to knock it out of the park. Technically, you’re supposed to apply this sauce to something, like ice cream or your special someone. But there’s a case to be made for just eating it with a spoon, straight out of the jar, as if it were a very fancy, very thick pudding cup. You decide.
EMJ, Sweet55, California
Looking for a more creative way to say, Honey, I’d move mountains for you? Allow me to present the EMJ, a gianduja-filled mountain range named for three of the largest peaks in the Swiss Alps (Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau). In her Half Moon Bay shop, chocolatier Ursula Schnyder channels her Swiss heritage into a variety of classic-yet-creative confections, including the hazelnut-spiked range complete with white chocolate snow caps.
Browned Butter Bar, Patric Chocolate, Missouri
This beautiful bar from the multi-award-winning chocolatier Alan “Patric” McClure merges all of our favorite brown things: browned butter, brown sugar, dark chocolate. And it melts in your mouth, just as the name implies. (Purchase here.)