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Buying the Best Chocolate for Valentine

February 4, 2010
Buying the best chocolate for Valentine’s Day (or any other occasion) almost never happens by accident. Learning to recognize fine-quality chocolate isn’t difficult, it’s not nearly as expensive as learning about wine, and it’s just as much fun. With a little direction and some practice tasting chocolate (tough, I know, but I’m pretty sure you’re up to the challenge), you’ll be able to wow your date or your mate with your newfound chocolate expertise.
The five things you need to know about buying chocolate:

1. The most important thing to look for when buying chocolate is freshness.
When you look for great wine you go to a store that specializes in wine, not the corner convenience store. The same thing holds true for chocolate.

You’re going to find the best valentine chocolate in places that specialize in chocolate. If you don’t have a chocolatier or chocolate shop near you, your next best bet is a gourmet store or high-end market. These stores often carry chocolates made by top local artisan chocolatiers.

Boxed chocolates that you’re likely to find in the supermarket or drug store are made with ingredients and recipes that allow them to be stored at room temperature for six months or more without going bad. It might be edible, but it’s definitely not as tasty as chocolate that’s been made fresh.

If you are unlucky enough not to live near a chocolatier you like, you can shop confidently over the Internet. The key is to seek out small, artisan chocolatiers and to avoid chocolatiers whose products can be found at retail around the country.

You’re looking for small production, not mass market.

2. The second most important thing to look for is price, and it’s important to remember: You don’t get what you don’t pay for.
Believe it or not, valentine chocolate is one of the least expensive gourmet foods you can buy. Looked at one way, the most expensive chocolates in the world cost more than $100 a pound; looked at another way (and this is the way you should be looking at it), the most expensive bar of chocolate in the world costs about $10, and a couple of the highest-quality truffles or bonbons will set you back less than $5.

If you walk into the one of the best-known and highest of the high-end French chocolate stores in Manhattan, the chocolate will cost about $90 a pound. However, you can put together a hand-picked selection in a gorgeous box for $25 or less.
While you may not be getting as much chocolate as you would in the two-pound assortment in the heart-shaped box at the local drugstore, in the end, which one will make the best impression?

3. No matter what the recipient might say, this is not the time or place to worry about diets.
Don’t even consider sugar-free unless you plan to give the chocolate to a diabetic. There are some decent low-glycemic index chocolates, but they are few and far between.
There is not supposed to be anything virtuous about chocolate. You want to feel good eating it, not feel good about eating it. If there is any hint of any issue regarding weight, focus on portion control, not dietetic attributes.

4. Buy flavors you know that the recipient likes.
If you know the recipient at all well, then you should have an idea of what they do and don’t like to eat. Use that knowledge as a guideline.
Maybe you’ve never been out to dinner together (this is a first or blind date), so you have no idea what kinds of foods the person likes. In this case, focus on what you like. In case the date goes badly, at least you’ll like the chocolate you were planning to give.

5. Finally, never give (or re-gift) chocolate that you would not eat yourself to someone you are trying to impress.
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to buy great valentine chocolate, and maybe — who knows? — you’ll get lucky in love, too.

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