With contributions from Karen Fawcett of Bonjour Paris and Kathryn Nilsson Reichert.
February is certainly a time for chocolate, and we’ve tasted and reviewed some of the best for you, so you’ll be sure to buy the tastiest morsels for your loves this month.Not long ago I found myself at the Chocolate Show in New York, which is also held in Paris and Cairo, curiously (it might take a pause on Cairo this year, eh?). I decided that the Chocolate Show was the perfect excuse to have a virtual tasting of sorts to compare French and American chocolate. Could American chocolate possibly hold up to the spectacular French chocolate I was partial to? I felt as if I would be biased, so I brought in two consorts, Karen and Kathryn (hard-core Francophiles and fellow bloggers), to help me out. Karen brought in an entire team of tasters and had a chocolate party.We tested 6 chocolates on a scale from 1 to 10 for taste (most important, of course), packaging, inventiveness and artistry. BTW, if you can’t get to Paris anytime soon, this virtual trip via chocolate is the way to go!
Michel Cluizel, from Paris, is a name you see a lot in the City of Light. It has been making chocolate since 1948 and clearly knows what it’s doing. I gave it a seven. The chocolate has great flavor, and Michel Cluizel has an ample line of product, but I’ve never been crazy about the packaging. That’s probably the least important area, but let’s face it: when you are buying a gift of chocolate, it has to be beautiful. Michel Cluizel has recently opened in New York.
The Bonjour Paris team felt Michel Cluizel’s chocolates were an eight and judged them to be “really good” and unpretentious. They were among the winners. Nothing was wrong with the packaging, and they were deemed “pure melt-in-your-mouth” (calories). Kathryn Reichert said, “I was not optimistic about these because I have seen them in many places in France and thought of the brand as ‘mass-market chocolate.’ I was so wrong: the dark chocolate was velvety, rich and thoroughly delicious. Small, individually wrapped squares mean you can have a quick treat anytime.”
Adding it up and balancing all of our tastes, I think Michel Cluizel rates a strong seven.
Boissier has been making chocolate in Paris since 1827, and its packaging was the most spectacular of all the chocolates we tasted. Very girlie and very classic. I bought a box of chocolate petals in a variety of colors: pink, white, green and chocolate. It was gorgeous, but since the colored petals are made of white chocolate, I wasn’t a huge fan. But if you are into white chocolate, this one is for you. I’m anxious to try some of Boissier’s other products because the packaging is so charming; I just have to find a product that suits me. I give Boissier petals a six.
The Bonjour Paris team said, “Ah, the Boissier chocolate petals were seductive.” The judges deemed them unusual and intriguing; they received a thumbs-up and a score of eight! Kathryn said of the Boissier white chocolate petals: “They were lightly flavored chocolate in small delicate petals. The beautiful presentation means you can enjoy several pieces and not feel like you’ve loaded up on chocolate.”
Boissier added up to a seven, with a star for beauty and inventiveness. True girlie chocolates.
No Chewing Allowed: Absolutely divine or chocolate overload?
No Chewing Allowed
No Chewing Allowed has been making French truffles since 1934. These were absolutely divine in a melt-in-your-mouth kind of way. A tad too large, but other than that these were my hands-down winner, at nine. The packaging is cute and practical—a silver tin that makes the perfect gift.
But with a different take, the Bonjour Paris team told me, “The truffles—no, we did not chew—had a strange texture plus a bitter aftertaste. Everyone wanted to be wowed by them, but wasn’t.” Sigh. Perhaps they were lost in transportation, scoring only a six. KR proclaimed: “No Chewing Allowed: Wow! These truffles were so rich, I ate one and almost swooned. This is chocolate overload in one bite and great, strong flavor, but it may be too much for palates used to milder American chocolate.”
Tough to figure on this one, but I guess No Chewing Allowed truffles add up to a seven as well.
Maha Chocolate is based in San Francisco. I sampled the dark chocolate–covered roasted almonds with ginger. I scored these at eight, although I think I would have preferred them without the ginger. They come in a cute package with a purple label and would make a lovely little hostess gift, and at $10.95 it’s a great deal.
The BJ Paris team didn’t like them as much, saying, “Maha chocolate with roasted almonds had too many almonds and not enough good chocolate.” Thumbs-down, scoring a three. Miss Reichert felt that Maha’s dark chocolate with nuts was strong but not bitter, and had almost too many nuts. She wanted more of the chocolate! But she gave them points for the nice presentation of several pieces in a small twine-tied bag.
Overall, we’d say Maha scores a six for taste and higher for artistry and packaging.
Chocolate fashion makes for a sweet wardrobe.
2 Chicks with Chocolate
2 Chicks with Chocolate is a mother-daughter team from New York. It was named 1 of the 10 best chocolatiers in the United States in 2009. I tasted wine-flavored chocolates, a cinnamon chocolate, a peanut butter bonbon and a cranberry one, too. It also had pumpkin for fall. I ranked these lowest, at five. Points for creativity, marketing and a great name, but the taste was too simple for my palate. I think my daughter may like them, but for a chocolate connoisseur—I’d have to pass.
But Bonjour Paris had another take, finding chocolates from 2 Chicks the clear taste winners at nine. The team of tasters thought they were decadent but that the box was not up to snuff. The brown color was boring, and why did the company opt for the sticker? It looked amateurish. And different still, Kathryn scored 2 Chicks with Chocolate this way: “These pieces came in a beautiful little box of four unusually good-looking pieces of chocolate with equally unusual flavor combinations, such as cinnamon and chocolate. Overall, very creamy and flavorful.”
Amazing how three tasting teams can differ so much. Adding things up, we give 2 Chicks a seven with two (not three) thumbs down for packaging.
Sweetriot was the last American maker that I tasted. I must admit bias here because I had heard the founder, Sarah, speak at a recent women’s conference I was at, and she is absolutely adorable. It was hard not to like her chocolate. It’s intense and very dark. She has bars chock full of nuts and fruit, and everything is quite tasty, and the company supports fair trade, so its cocoa farmers make a living wage. Conscious chocolate. There is a whole-foods kind of sensibility to the product and its marketing. No fancy-looking artistry here—just serious chocolate bars or chocolate bits that are called chocolate peaces. I wasn’t a fan of the packaging, as I prefer a more luxurious look, but for an everyday chocolate treat that you can carry in your purse, this fits the bill. Sweetriot scored a six.
Karen and her judges had nothing nice to report when it came to the chocolates from Sweetriot, rating them only a two. They hated the packaging and thought the chocolates tasted as if they had too many additives and were overprocessed, for unsophisticated palates. Showing now our cultural differences (Kathryn has lived mainly in the United States for the past 15 years, and Karen in Paris), Kathryn had this to say about Sweetriot: “Sweetriot chocolate has cool, pop-culture packaging and some different combinations, including dark chocolate with raisins, which simply tasted weird to me. The dark chocolate bar with cacao nibs was yummy, while the dark chocolate nibs with espresso were a bit too much coffee flavor.”
Overall, we give Sweetriot a five for taste and a star for packaging, if you like pop culture that is.
Bottom line: If I had to sum it up, I’d say that American chocolate makers have come a long way.
In the end, for me France still wins first prize. The French win hands down on packaging, artistry and taste—but the Americans are catching up. The patriots are very creative, trying to push the envelope, and their marketing is more clever—or is that because I am conditioned to it? I don’t know, but here’s hoping that you, too, get to taste a lot of chocolate between now and your newest diet. There is no question: each person, Francophile or not, has her own ideas about what chocolate tastes best.
Many thanks to our tasters:
Kathryn Nilsson Reichert is a corporate communications strategist and social-media expert who spends her days working for a Fortune 100 financial services company. In her off hours, she dreams about when she can return to Paris, and sit at a café all day and write. Follow Kathryn on Twitter at @knreichert.
Karen Fawcett has run Bonjour Paris since the mid-1990s and is the grande dame of all us Johnny-come-lately bloggers!
Editor’s note: In Paris and want to taste chocolate? Don’t waste another moment of your time—download our pastry and chocolate walking trip today!