From Willy Wonka–esque chocolate factories to churro shops with chocolate fountains, the upcoming year will be an incredible one for the cacao-obsessed. As elaborate specialized programs continue to trend in restaurants across the country—we’re looking at you, sake somms—chocolatiers and artisans are also opening destination-worthy shops and pushing the boundaries of what you can do with chocolate (albeit, perhaps snorting chocolate like cocaine is taking things a little too far). Here, the places to visit, the chocolate to eat and the cookbook to memorize so you can have the best chocolate year of your life.
With big projects like pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini’s 20 Degrees American Chocolate and Coffee Roasters on the horizon for 2017, more and more amazing chocolate makers are opening state-of-the-art shops and extravagant factories. With their doors now open to the public, your childhood dream of boating down a chocolate river might actually come true. Get out the map and start planning your road trip; these are the places that we can’t wait to visit.
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Olive & Sinclair Factory, Nashville – Now Open
Olive & Sinclair, a bean-to-bar chocolate company based in Tennessee, recently moved into a former 1890s grocery store, a completely renovated factory space that has all of the original antique fixtures—plus, a newly opened storefront. In the store, you can watch their refurbished 1900s mélangers grind cacao beans; you can also try new products, like the pickled cherry cordials from their brand-new Seersucker Confections line. Every Saturday, Olive & Sinclair offers tours of the factory space complete with a bean-to-bar tasting of roasted and unroasted beans, bourbon barrel–aged beans and cacao that has been smoked with Benton’s country hams. oliveandsinclair.com
Vosges Chocolate Factory, Chicago – April 2016
Owner Katrina Markoff’s boutique chocolate company is known for its rich chocolate and exotic flavors (think Absinthe and Yellow Curry). Later this year, Markoff will open the doors to her most exciting project yet: A 43,000-square-foot facility in North Center Chicago where, over the next two years, she’ll open a new chocolate lab, a café, gastropub and a fairy tale–like “sensory room,” which is designed to give visitors a full sensory experience of the chocolate products she and her team are working on. That means ever-changing rooms with grass on the floor and rain pouring from the ceiling, or a pitch-black room coated with cocoa beans. The space, which she’s calling a “Chocolate Temple,” will be open to the public for tours of the lab and chocolate tastings starting in April 2016, with the sensory room and dining concepts unrolling into 2017. vosgeschocolate.com
180 Churro & Chocolate Bar, Portland, Oregon – December 2015
Chef Jose Chesa of Portland’s tapas-centric Ataula will be opening Chesa, a paella restaurant, at the end of this year. In the front of the restaurant will be 180 Churro & Chocolate Bar, a small shop where hot drinking chocolate will flow from fountains and be served alongside the house churros.
HEXX chocolate & confexxions, Las Vegas – Now Open
Situated next to HEXX kitchen + bar inside the Paris Las Vegas, the newly opened HEXX chocolate & confexxions shop is the first bean-to-bar concept in Las Vegas. The chocolate, which is made on site and used at HEXX kitchen in both sweet and savory dishes, uses only single-origin beans and organic palm sugar. Stop in for a chocolate tasting at HEXX kitchen, sit at the dessert bar and watch the chocolatiers at work. Conversely, you can sign up for a hands-on factory tour. Not to be missed is Hexx’s house ice cream, made by High Road, and the make-your-own ice cream sandwich bar. hexxchocolate.com
Indulgence Chocolatiers, Milwaukee, Wisconsin — Now Open
In the Walker’s Point neighborhood of Milwaukee, Indulgence Chocolatiers' largest location is home to its incredible chocolate pairing bar. Visitors can enjoy wine, beer, spirits and cheese paired with their confections. The chocolate pairing menu, which changes three to four times a year, features seasonal truffles like Sour Cherry Espresso, Vanilla Star Anise and Olive Oil. If you’re interested in learning more, they also offer pairing classes, such as their Fall Cocktail and Chocolate class, where you learn to make a series of craft cocktails and create chocolates to go with them. Classes from $20 per person, indulgencechocolatiers.com
L’École Valrhona, Brooklyn — Now Open
The renowned, chocolate-focused L’École du Grand Chocolat pastry school in Valrhona, France, recently opened this Stateside location in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn. The school, which moved into its expansive state-of-the-art location in April 2015, offers more rigorous classes for culinary professionals, in addition to their “Gourmet” recreational classes. The Valrhona instructors will teach you how to make your own Halloween candy or how to master an impressive bûche de Noël for your holiday party. Classes start at $159, valrhona-chocolate.com
CHOCOLATE TO BUY AND EAT IMMEDIATELY
Fruition Chocolate’s Marañón 76% Bar
This unique chocolate bar is made with a rare (long thought to be extinct) cacao called Nacional. About 40 percent of the seeds from this variety are white or blonde in color and have very little bitterness from low tannin levels. This yields a rich, toasty flavor that is uncommon among bars with such a high cacao percentage. $12.95, tastefruition.com
Hard Crack Dark Chocolate Toffee Nibs
We’re obsessed with these crunchy, buttery toffee bits coated in dark chocolate and cocoa powder. The nibs are phenomenal over ice cream or mixed into cookie dough in place of chocolate chips. $5/3.5oz., available at Whole Foods and hardcracktoffee.com
Swine Sweets Peanut Butter Cups with Chicharrones and Smoked Salt
Whether you’re so over the bacon trend or can’t get enough of it, you’ll love these subtly porky peanut butter cups. The chicharrones give the PB filling a slight crunch and the smoky salt complements the chocolate, versus overpowering it. $17, mouth.com
CHOCOLATE TO MAKE AT HOME
DIY Ice Cream Bars (Photo)
For the holidays, it's usually all about baking cookies, but these homemade ice cream bars are just as fun to make (try star- or other-shaped cutters) and will disappear immediately so you're not left breaking your January cleanse with broken and brittle gingerbread men.
Instant Chocolates without the Molds
For a last-minute chocolate gift or party dessert, try this easy Mad Genius Tip:
DON’T MISS THIS COOKBOOK
Guittard Chocolate Cookbook: Decadent Recipes from San Francisco’s Premium Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Company by Amy Guittard, Foreword by Alice Medrich, Chronicle
As the fifth generation in her family-owned business, Amy Guittard grew up on chocolate. The avid home baker has a highly developed passion for all things cocoa—you would be hard pressed to find someone with more chocolate chops than she. In this cacao tome, Guittard shares the history and wisdom of the 155-year-old brand, in addition to hundreds of chocolaty recipes ranging from brownies to bon bons. One of our favorites is the Molten Chocolate Cookie recipe that yields eight hefty cookies with a perfectly crisp exterior and a warm, gooey center.
F&W's new series reveals the best ways to maximize your food year through travel, wine, cooking, tech, style, events and experiences. Use #BESTFOODYEAR on Twitter and Instagram to tell us about the ones you want to try. We'll continue to share more tips with the hashtag throughout the year and want to hear about how you celebrate food every day, too.