IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Sweet sampler for Valentine’s Day

From European-style chocolates to wild Cherry Hearts. By Teri Goldberg

Most often, it’s sweet. Sometimes, it’s slightly bitter. Usually, it’s a delicate combination of the two. Ah the true nature of love! So it’s quite fitting that on Valentine’s Day — the day set aside to celebrate that love — sweethearts exchange gifts of the bitter, sweet substance, known as chocolate.

These days, European-style chocolates, also known as boutique or gourmet chocolates, are all the rage. A short shelf life, premium ingredients and exotic flavors characterize these often pricey confections.

European-style chocolates"Historically, Europeans have been fanatical about their chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Slowly, that trend has made its way to America," says David Bolton, director of product development and quality assurance at Burlington, Vt.-based Lake Champlain Chocolates.

Lake Champlain Chocolates

Dark chocolate is exploding in popularity, he adds. "In the 1980s, Americans preferred milk chocolate and sweeter centers. Today, we have seen a shift in consumer preferences, towards darker chocolate and more exotic flavors," says Bolton.

At , V-day shoppers will find high-end truffles (five pieces for $14) assortments of classic chocolates (a 22-piece box runs $35)and some special dark chocolate varieties. On the sweeter end of the dark chocolate spectrum is the mint crunch, a combo of 54 percent African-blend chocolate with bits of crisp peppermint candy. The "select origin 70 percent cocoa-content dark Sao Thome" is exactly that — a highly cocoa-concentrated chocolate from Sao Thome, an island off Africa’s West Coast.

Another chocolatier that prides itself on its European-style chocolates is Napa Valley, Calif.-based Woodhouse Chocolate, founded by John and Tracy Anderson in April 2004.

Packaged in its signature light blue box, assortments come with mostly dark, a mix of dark-and-white or mostly white chocolates. Each sampler contains a rich collection of Belgian-molded chocolates filled with organic cream and butter, mint out of the Anderson’s garden, whole nuts and/or other fresh local ingredients.

Among the 27 varieties are the Bananas Foster, filled with a fresh cream whipped up with rum flambéed bananas, Champagne Truffles containing "a splash of Grande Champagne Cognac" and trendier concoctions, such as the Thai Ginger confection "infused with coconut and lemongrass."

Inspiration for the chocolates comes from "meals enjoyed in restaurants, cookbooks, magazines, movies, childhood memories" says John Anderson, who also says seeing the movie "Chocolat" sparked the couple’s interest in making chocolate professionally.

Woodhouse Chocolate chocolates have a very limited shelf life. The Andersons recommend you eat the sweets within seven days of delivery. The chocolates only are available from the Napa Valley store or .

Red, wild and a bit tart

Bridgewater Choclate

For some lovers, it’s just not Valentine’s Day without a box of chocolate-covered cherries. But this year, before you grab a dusty container of the cherry confections off the corner drugstore shelf, consider a few gourmet varieties.

At the center of Bridgewater Chocolate’s Cherry Heart is a wild cherry grown in the hilly regions of Italy. The slightly sour Amarena Cherry is "the finest cherry there is," says Erik Landegren, a chocolatier from Sweden who founded the Brookfield, Conn.-based company in 1995. "The flavor is tart and medium strong and it is well balanced when marinated in sugar," he adds. "A Bing cherry is nice when ripe, but too sweet for our purpose. If we would add sugar or syrup to a Bing, the result would simply be too sweet," says Landegren.

The sour cherry is covered with a dark chocolate heart. And if that wasn’t enough, the cordial is placed on top of a miniature slab of milk chocolate.

Six Cherry Hearts sell for $13.95. A dozen costs $25.95.

The Cherry Hearts and other Valentine’s Day selections—assortments of classic chocolates including caramels, turtles and toffees — are available at .

High-end chocolatier Christopher Norman Chocolates also put a wild Italian cherry at the center of its cherry cordials, which they call Amarene (plural for Amarena) Cherries. Unique characteristics of the Amarena cherry are its small size and firm texture, says a company spokesperson.

To seal in the juices, the cherries are coated by hand with a very dark or 72 percent cocoa-content chocolate, she says. Then the tart cherries are coated again with chocolate by a machine called an enrober, which gives the cherry an "even and shiny look," she adds.

An eight-ounce container holds about 36-38 cherries and costs $40.

Christopher Norman Chocolates are sold at and at cyber gift shop for Valentine’s Day.

More traditional chocolate-covered cherries can be found at chocolate shops across the country. Classic chocolate-covered cherries are bountiful at in South Bountiful, Utah, where the cordials are sold in one-, two-, three- and five-pound boxes, priced at $18.95, $36.95, $55.95 and $89.95 respectively. Yep, that’s five pounds of chocolate-covered cherries!

Harbor Sweets

Of course, you can always pick up a box of Cella’s Cherries — wipe the dust off first — at the corner drugstore. The gooey Valentine’s Day staple has been around since 1864. A box of six chocolate-covered cherries at sells for as little as $2.39.

Other chocolate choicesSweet treats made year-round but wrapped up for special for the most romantic day of the year include the Sweet Sloops from Salem, Mass.-based . The signature piece is a sailboat-shaped confection with an almond butter crunch bar as its center, a mainsail and jib made of white chocolate and a dark chocolate base covered with pecan shavings. Packaged in a red box covered with white hearts, 10 sloops cost $9.95. A white box, dotted with red hearts, hold four sloops and sells for $5.95.

L.a. Burdick Chocolate

Looking for something soft and cuddly? Consider the chocolate penguins at Walpole, NH-based . The chocolate penguins "pay homage to the flight-less, tuxedoed birds of Antarctica," made popular this past year with the release of the movie "March of the Penguins." The chocolate penguins are made of "hand-piped ganache of dark chocolate and lemon, have almond arms and a dark chocolate dressing with white chocolate accents." Nine penguins in a wooded box cost $31. Unlike real penguins who survive long hard winters in the South Pole, these penguins will not last the winter. The folks at L.A. Burdick recommend you eat the chocolate variety within two weeks of delivery.