With Valentines day just around the corner I have been thinking of what to buy for my girlfriend.  While I usually buy her practical gifts, she still has a soft sport for sentimental ones, especially  chocolate.  But I didn’t want to get her a simple Hersheys bar or a bag of kisses, so I solicited the help of a friend that works at a nearby chocolate store.   I was surprised by how much he knew about chocolate.

Andy explained to me that chocolate basically comes in three forms:  Dark chocolate, Milk chocolate and White chocolate.  Dark chocolate in its pure form is unsweetened and is primarily used for cooking.  Milk chocolate has had condensed or powdered milk added to it  and white chocolate contains only cocoa butter.

The quality of chocolate not only comes from the ingredients used to make it, but also in the process used make it.   While the US does have laws regarding what can be called chocolate, there is little regulation over the manufacturing process.  Hence mass produced chocolate sold here is usually good, but never the best.

So where do they make the best chocolate?  Ironically not in any region where cocoa beans are grown.  While chocolate snobs will debate which country produces the best chocolate, we can generally narrow it down to one of four European Countries:  Belguim, Germany Italy  and Switzerland.

Now none of the companies from these counties produce inexpensive chocolate. but once you try it you will know why.   Only the finest African cocoa beans and whole fresh milk are used in the elaboration of their chocolate.  And the process they use takes longer than that used by mass producers.  Their chocolate is then stored at optimal temperatures and is never sold after its expiration date.  It’s this reputation for quality control, and gives European manufacturers the advantage.

So without further ado, here are Andy’s picks of the best chocolate and some ideas for Valentine’s Day gifts.

Lindt

Connaisseurs Milk Chocolate Assortment

This Swiss company has been around since 1845 and were pioneers in perfecting the process used to make chocolate.  Many consider their chocolate to be the best in the world, and you won’t hear any argument from me.

While primarily a European brand they do manufacture and sell in the US.   But the global crisis has hit the chocolate industry hard and forced Lindt to close many of its US outlets. You can still however buy on their online store, or even on Amazon,  and have them delivered to your doorstep as quickly as the next day.

A great collection of milk chocolate prailines is the Connaisseurs Milk Chocolate Assortment. At twenty dollars, it won’t dig too deeply into your wallet either.

Ghirardelli

As I mentioned before, none of the best chocolate manufacturers come from country that produces cocoa beans.  So which country the chocolate is manufactured in should be irrelevant, other than the fact that certain countries have better reputations for quality control than others.

So  it might come to a surprise to you that Ghirardelli is not an Italian company, but an American one.  And to me they make some of the most mouthwatering chocolate sold and have a lot of really cool collections that are perfect for Valentine’s day.  They sold like crazy during the holidays and I expect that trend to continue for Valentine’s day.

If you are looking for a gift for somebody special, there is a company that makes a Ghirardelli gift basket comes with 4 packages of cocoa, 2 packages of chocolate coffee, a bunch of samples of other treats,  and of course, chocolate.

Another company, Wine.com, sells a similar basket, but with more chocolate.

    1. Godiva

Godiva originated in Belgium, but these days can be found in posh neighborhoods world wide.  In the US, you can find them on 5th Avenue and In Paris on Rue St. Honoré.  But no matter where you are  this  “elegant chocolate” is simply delicious.   It’s not cheap, but few things of quality ever are.

One of Godiva’s specialties are its boxed sets of chocolates.  They come in collections as small as 9 pieces and as large as 36 pieces.