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Top Pick Of The Week

April 21, 2009

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Gold Leaf Chocolates

Go for the gold—gold leaf beauties by Laurent Vals Handcrafted Chocolate. All photography by Corey Lugg | THE NIBBLE. Styling by Lauren LaPenna.

WHAT IT IS: Artisan chocolates.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: The finest handmade chocolates, created with the best ingredients, imagination and love by small chocolatiers.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Imagination, dedication, craftsmanship and, of course, flavor and overall experience that’s worth every calorie.
WHERE TO BUY IT: See individual listings.
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The Chocolate Revolution: America’s Artisan Chocolatiers ~ Part IV

Page 2: How To Buy Artisan Chocolates


This is Page 2 of a seven-page review. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.

INDEX OF REVIEW

This is Page 1 of a seven-page article. Click on the black links to visit other pages.

MORE TO DISCOVER

About Artisan Chocolatiers

Artisan chocolates are different. They don’t have preservatives, for one, so you can’t keep them for four weeks, much less four months. Here’s a little “fact sheet” to help you enjoy the purchase experience of these beautiful chocolates.

  • Don’t Wait Until The Last Minute To Buy. Especially prior to holidays, give the chocolatiers enough time to work. And be prepared to pay a little more for the good quality and artisan labor that goes into what you’ll receive.
  • Check The Warm Weather Shipping Policy. As temperatures increase, chocolatiers become increasingly cautious about shipping, and rightfully so. Each chocolatier has his or her own policy regarding warm-weather shipments. Some simply won’t ship during the summer. Many insist upon including extra frozen gel packs or overnight shipping once a certain date comes around, or if the temperature in your neighborhood is forecast to be above a particular level when the shipment is due to arrive. If you are not prepared to pay extra for this warm-weather shipping, you’ll have to wait for cooler weather to enjoy their chocolates. They know what’s best—they don’t want a chocolate puddle to arrive at your door. The shipping policy is generally on the website.

Obsession Chocolates

Butterflies, roses, raspberries, pears and limes... Obsession Chocolates are in harmony with nature.

  • Note Any Substitution Policy. Some chocolatiers have set boxes, others allow you to pick your favorite flavors. If you are making a custom selection and won’t accept substitutions, make it absolutely clear when you order. Chocolatier X’s website states that you can select up to eight of his flavors in a box of sixteen chocolates, so that’s what I did. I placed my order on December 19th of last year, emphasizing that I did not need the chocolates for Christmas. The box arrived on December 24th, to my surprise. When I opened it, the assortment wasn’t even close to my specifications. I contacted the chocolatier immediately; his response was that he was out of a number of flavors I’d selected, and didn’t expect to have those flavors again immediately after the holiday, so he’d just substituted. While it’s understandable that a chocolatier might run out of certain chocolates so close to a holiday, there are a number of flavors that I dislike or can’t eat, which is why I chose particular pieces in the first place.
  • Some chocolatiers specify that they can make substitutions if your choices are not available. If you have very specific needs, as I do, you’ll need to be very specific when you order, and state what you want the chocolatier to do if your exact choice(s) is not available (i.e., cancel the order, double up on the other flavors, send a smaller box of what is available).
  • If what you want is not available, any company that provides good service should contact you for directions; the onus should not be put on the buyer to advise the merchant in advance about substitutions. It is unacceptable to substitute without notifying the customer, and that is one of the reasons that we didn’t recommend certain chocolatiers who make wonderful products (more reasons below). While all of the companies we review provide excellent service, when ordering from others, if substitutions will make you unhappy, a pre-emptive request is better than an unhappy surprise.

Finally:

  • Don’t Hoard The Chocolate. Consume these beautiful chocolates when they’re fresh. Enjoy them, share them, don’t save them. When chocolates are made without preservatives—as artisan chocolates are—the fillings, made from cream, fruit and other natural ingredients, begin to deteriorate quickly, like any fresh foods. They taste the best the day they’re made, which is why artisan chocolatiers don’t “stock up” and can be “out of stock” on flavors that sell quickly. Some chocolatiers will note that they should be consumed within five days, others within two weeks. If there is no note, two weeks is a good rule of thumb. Solid chocolate—with no fillings, flavors or nuts—will be good for a year.

Who Gets Recommended, Who Doesn’t

Often, THE NIBBLE receives notes from readers asking why it has reviewed Chocolatier A but not Chocolatier B, who they think makes the best chocolate they’ve ever tasted. Sometimes we know the company they are referring to and sometimes we don’t; if not, we’ll check it out. But here are some reasons a chocolatier might not be mentioned in one of these articles.

  • We simply haven’t tried their products. So many new chocolatiers are cropping up that we can’t get to all of them.
  • The chocolates are not well made. No matter how much they may please the many customers who enjoy them, they don’t pass the muster of a professional chocolate reviewer. I’ve tried two such chocolatier’s products recently and can cite excessively thick outer shells, gritty chocolate and overly-sweet centers with no real flavor. Some are simply too sweet all around—sugar overwhelms all the other flavors.
  • There are “artistic differences.” Every reviewer, whether of food, wine or literature, has stylistic preferences. I ordered a box of chocolates from a chocolatier in California. The chocolates were technically flawless: beautiful thin exterior shells, perfectly-tempered chocolate, obviously good-quality and fresh ingredients. Unhappily for me, the centers were so delicately flavored that I could barely taste them. On the flip side of the coin, I’ve also tried chocolates with centers flavored too aggressively. It all comes down to a matter of taste in cases like these; these producers have happy customers but I’m just not one of them. I don’t write about such chocolatiers simply because there are others whose products I believe are more worthy of notice.
  • The customer service is bad. This is something I’ve encountered far too frequently lately. I’m not unsympathetic to small-scale chocolatiers with a staff of just one or two people, believe me. I know how difficult it is for small operations to get everything done. Even among chocolatiers with several employees, I have a good understanding of the trials involved in acquiring and keeping a dependable staff. I also know that mistakes are inevitable, especially near major holidays. But you can have the best chocolates in the galaxy, and it isn’t worth anything unless you’ve got good customer service to back it up. I’ll cite a couple of occurrences that have happened to me in the past few months:
  • I ordered a box of chocolates from Chocolatier Y in the Midwest, consisting of 12 individual chocolates and one of her specialty chocolate bars. When I opened the box, three or four of the individual chocolates were completely smashed, absolutely inedible. The remainder, as well as the bar, were O.K. once I wiped off all of the goop from the smashed chocolates. I contacted the chocolatier immediately, and her reply was that she’d try to do better next time. I was dismayed. I didn’t need a whole new box, but at least offer to replace (or refund the cost of) the inedible chocolates.
  • Then there was Chocolatier Z, which I believe is a husband-and-wife team. I ordered from their website one week before Valentine’s Day. As is usual, I paid for everything (including shipping) at the time of my order. On February 13th, I received a note in my mailbox informing me that a package sent to me had arrived with $4.10 postage due. Puzzled, I called my post office; the package was from Chocolatier Z. I had to drive to the post office and pay the extra postage before I could get the box. When I got home and opened it, half of my order was incorrect. I will add that, in both of these cases, the chocolatiers attempted to fix matters, though in one instance only with some prodding on my part. However, when their customer service was so bad to begin with, why would I recommend them to anyone? And that’s why some businesses with very fine products don’t get mentioned: They don’t understand that happy customers, repeat purchases and good word-of-mouth are what keeps them in business.

And now for the good news: fine chocolatiers whose products and service are more than worth their calorie content and your hard-earned dollars.

Continue To Page 3: Bespoke Chocolates

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