We Heart Chocolate

Yesterday, a small group of opinionated chocolate elves with resilient palates joined me in a blind taste test of eight Valentine's chocolate heart samplers. (Somebody's gotta do it.)

The criteria: Assortments for the everyday lover - available nationally at the grocery store, the drug store or the mall. Nothing fancy, artisanal or homemade.


The choc-off contestants.(Kim O'Donnel)

The idea: To get a pulse on the state of mass-produced Valentine's samplers and to determine which, if any, of the contestants would be worth the money, even at the last procastinator's minute.

The scene: A pile of half-eaten chocolates in a "spit cup" for those too harsh to go down the hatch. A lot of chocolate-induced fidgeting, including some teeth experiencing sugar jitters. The work we do is hard labor, I tell you.

The chocolate contestants included:

"Grand Assortment," by Lake Champlain Chocolates, of Burlington, Vt.

What you get: 22 pieces, a mix of truffles, solid and filled in a multi-colored sturdy cardboard heat with a magenta grosgrain ribbon. Enclosed "map" of chocolates.
How much: $27.99
Where: Whole Foods
Tasting notes: While one panelist was wooed by its "silky mouth feel," another found this selection too intensely chocolate. Everyone agreed that the selection looked tantalizing , and even if they may not want to be on the receiving end, they were confident of earned kisses for giving this one.
Rank: 2nd place


Hershey's "Pot of Gold" Premium Assortment
What you get: 26 pieces, mixture of truffles, nuts, caramels and crème fillings. Thin, flimsy red heart, very little decoration. Enclosed booklet that includes descriptions of each chocolate. Partially hydrogenated oils (i.e.trans fats) and high fructose corn syrup.
How much: $9.95
Where: CVS
Tasting notes: This heart received fairly low marks for its "ordinary mouthfeel," "indistinct texture and cheap ingredients that taste too sweet." None of the panelists was particularly excited to give or receive this heart.
Rank: 6th place

Whitman's Sampler
What you get: About 30 pieces, mix of caramels, crème fillings, the lone chocolate covered cherry, chocolate covered peanuts. Trans fats.
How much: $9.99
Where: CVS
Tasting notes: "Fun to chew on, nice and soft, but not much taste. This should blow my mouth away." On the plus side, "good snap to crunch," good variety and contrast between exterior and interior, particularly with the dark chocolates. Some thought it looked a "bit dusty."
One panelist yearned for the good old days, when all chocolate samplers included paper wrappers for each chocolate, which were missing.
Rank: Was a favorite for one panelist, which helped bring this heart into 3rd place.


Russell Stover Assorted Chocolates
What you get: about 28 pieces, mix of crème filled, caramels, toffee. Trans fats.
How much: $9.99
Where: Giant Foods
Tasting notes: "Hard to chew," but one panelist swooned over its toffee crunch bar. "Looks a little battered," "has a classic feel."
Interesting note: In 1993, Russell Stover acquired Whitmans, but it seems that the parent company didn't fare as well as its stepdaughter.
Rank: 4th place


Mrs. Fields "Premium Assorted Chocolates"
What you get: One pound of chocolates, or 28 pieces. Two layers in a reuseable red tin. A mix of caramels, toffee and clusters, including an odd oatmeal raisin caramel, a tribute to company founder Debra Fields. Trans fats and high fructose corn syrup.
How much: $9.99
Where: CVS
Tasting notes: Everyone poo-pooed the tin idea, which seems more fitting for cookies. In fact, one panelist said, "Stick to the cookies." Of all the contestants, this one was the toughest to bite into and chew. A few remarked on its "old" appearance and the thick layer of chocolate bloom - the residue that appears when chocolate is stale.
Rank: Three panelists gave this contestant the lowest rating, which meant a swift kick into the garbage pail, (minus the tin, of course) and sadly, into 8th place.


Dove Truffle Valentine
What you get: 16 heart-shaped truffles, enrobed in milk and dark chocolate, in a red velvety keepsake box. As of press time, calls to a Dove spokesperson about truffle ingredients had gone unreturned. There is no information on the truffle line on the company's Web site.
How much: $12.99
Where: Giant Foods
Tasting notes: It was unanimous that uniformity was a problem, not only in selection ("I want an assortment in my sampler") but also in overall taste. Some remarked on a "waxy mouth feel" and a plastic-like appearance. A few tasters found these truffles to be too sweet, with little chocolate flavor.
Background: Known for its ice cream bar, Dove is owned by M&M/Mars.
Rank: 7th place

Lindt Gourmet Truffles
What you get: 8 pieces, a mix of white, milk and dark enrobed truffles, with flavored ganache, two of which are orange.
How much: $9.99
Where: CVS
Tasting notes: Although one panelist liked the orange addition, she also noted that 2 out of 8 pieces shouldn't be orange in an assortment. All were nonplussed by the lack of variety, and no one was particularly wowed by the texture, flavor intensity or appearance.
Rank: 5th place

Godiva "True Love Heart"
What you get: 15 pieces, a mix of praline, solids, truffles, cherry cordial
contains trans fats. Cardboard heart decorated with heart-flower illustration. Back side lists contents of assortment. Trans fats.
How much: $23
Where: Godiva store, Pentagon City Mall
Tasting notes: Everyone was impressed by the variety and appearance of this assortment. One panelist mentioned that it "looked expensive." Flavors are "interesting and arresting," chocolate quotient is high and texture is "velvety." This earned high marks all around.
Rank: First place


Now, it's your turn. What would you spend your money on for your sweetie? Do you have a tried-and-true brand of boxed chocolates? Add your bites in the comments area. For more on chocolate, read the results of another chocolate-y taste test, with a focus on chocolate bars.

Coming up on Monday: Red velvet and a wedding cupcake topper update.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 9, 2007; 11:28 AM ET Chocolate , Taste Tests , Valentine's Day
Previous: All Aboard the Culinary Love Train | Next: Red Velvet Cupcake Bride

Comments

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Whitman's chocolates would be in last place if I were testing them. Even the ones with nuts are boring. Note to Whitmans: get rid of the molassas and fudge-like chocolates!

Posted by: Maryland | February 9, 2007 12:29 PM

I know I'm bucking the system by not selecting a type of chocolate that is found in chain supermakets, but I fell in love with Stam's Chocolate (based in Des Moines,IA) years ago and am constantly looking forward to the next time I can get my hands on some of those goodies! I only get them when I go back to the MidWest, so now it's an even bigger treat!

Posted by: Oh chocolate! | February 9, 2007 12:36 PM

My husband, daughter, and I are truely addicted to chocolate. My husband likes white chocolate, daughter likes milk chocolate, and I love dark chocolate.

I just wanted to note that Money magazine (hubby's reading material) did something similar to this in their January or (more likely) February issue. They rated 5 different types of chocolate boxes. I think the mixed box from Harry and David came in first place. I plan on getting some for the family for Valentine's day.

Here is the online version of Money's taste test: http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2007/moneymag/0702/gallery.chocolate/

Posted by: Yummy, yummy | February 9, 2007 1:29 PM

Godiva is my go to chocolate when I need a choco fix. But, it seems out of place being judged against supermarket chocolates. I realize it certainly isn't artisanal or handmade. But, I think it's quality and price are significantly higher than the others. Giving it an advantage, which shows since it came in first place.

Posted by: J | February 9, 2007 1:34 PM

What about Kron Chocolatier in the Mazza Gallerie? Their truffles are not as artistic as some but they taste like heaven! And their non-truffle chocolates are as attractive as anything else out there.

Posted by: Risa | February 9, 2007 1:59 PM

We've always considered Russell Stover to be our everyday chocolate, but the company has recently reconfigured its boxes, dropped some flavors, and raised prices.

For special occasions we sent away to Harbor Sweets in Marblehead Massachusetts for Sweet Sloops, sailboat-shaped crunchy toffee covered with white chocolate, dark chocolate and pecan dust. Eash piece foil-wrapped. Addictive.

Posted by: Anne W | February 9, 2007 2:02 PM

Wockenfuss Candy in the Columbia Mall has always been one of my favorites. That mall is chocolate heaven; you get both Wockenfuss and Godiva under one roof! Combine those with Maggie Moo's and the candy apple place by the carousel and wow!

Posted by: More please | February 9, 2007 2:19 PM

My boyfriend is Belgian, hence a lover a great chocolate, especially of the Belgian variety. Although I'm not a chocolate lover, I do really like Cote d'or line. Not easily found in the US, I found a website that offers that brand and many other imported varieties- www.worldwidechocolate.com. They are a bit pricey, but worth every penny, and a truly decadent gift. I especially recommend the Cote d'or "Bouchee"- milk chocolate filled with a mixture hazelnut, almond, and cashew butter.

Posted by: Alicia M. | February 9, 2007 4:53 PM

For Christmas this year, I received a box of See's chocolates s a gift. I was skeptical at first, but the entire 2-lb box was delicious. Even the buttercreams, which I usually hate.

Posted by: Good stuff | February 12, 2007 11:42 AM

Current favorite: French Broad Luscious Chocolates, currently only available online (frenchbroadchocolates.com). Each truffle is hand-dipped in the owners workshop/home, each ganache is slow-infused with an amazing variety of flavors,and for the eco-conscious, they're all organic. After tasting them, I could not care less about the organic status...these chocolates are to die for!

I'm actually thinking of getting boxes of 2 for wedding favors for my wedding this fall!

Posted by: OrganicGal | February 12, 2007 12:19 PM

Currently in love with Vosges truffles, but they can be very expensive (and the shipping is high).

Posted by: n/a | February 12, 2007 12:53 PM

I love Ethel M chocolates. Toured the factory on a trip to Las Vegas. You could sample as much or as little as you liked. I am a dark chocolate girl. And those were the best, most silky chocolates I've ever had. Whitman's may not be the best of the bunch, but it still holds a place in my heart as what my dad used to give his three girls on Valentine's Day.

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | February 12, 2007 1:07 PM

For gourmet taste and grocery-store prices, I head straight for Cerreta's Candy Company. A client who snowbirds between Phoenix and Wisconsin got me hooked on Cerreta's chocolates. I haven't worked at that company in six years, but I still crave sweets from Cerreta's! The French Mints are addictive, definitely worth having a box all to themselves.

Cerreta's is local to Phoenix, but you can order online and have them shipped. Most chocolates are $9 for a 1-pound box, although shipping of course tacks on to that.

Posted by: Northern Girl | February 14, 2007 3:12 PM

Roots on Route 108 in Clarksville, Howard County, has the Cote d'or milk chocolate bars.

Posted by: Julia | February 15, 2007 1:20 PM

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