shutterstock_25433377Looking for a way to make your Valentine’s Day dinner plans just a little bit sweeter?  Finish the meal with a flourish by giving your Valentine the gift of chocolate!  If you haven’t already used the Fannie May Berries savings pass that comes with every Restaurant.com purchase* between February 5 and February 15, it’s time to get to your local chocolate shop!

We consulted chocolate expert Clay Gordon, author of Discover Chocolate and founder of TheChocolateLife.com, and he was kind enough to share his advice on how to pick the perfect chocolate for your Valentine. 

By Clay Gordon

It’s is easy to feel a tad intimidated when walking into a chocolate shop. So many things to choose from … which ones to buy? I think that’s why many people gravitate towards an impersonal chocolate shopping experience and opt for a luxe box from any brand. It’s easy. It’s safe.

But you can’t eat the box.

In my book, Discover Chocolate (2007, Gotham Books), I make the point that you want to have the same relationship with your chocolatier that your grandmother wanted to have with her butcher. She’d been shopping there for years and when she walked in and asked, “What’s good today?” the butcher knew exactly what to offer (and what not to).

In that spirit, here are some tips for Valentine’s chocolate gifting that will help you make a lasting impression.

Buy from a specialist. When I look for good wine, beer, or any specialty food, I go to a specialty store. I do not expect to find the best at my corner bodega or local chain drug store. It’s the same with chocolate. I go to a specialist store. So should you.

Buy fresh. With chocolates there is a direct relationship between freshness and quality. Ask the person behind the counter what’s freshest and also what’s the most popular. Popular items sell out quickly which means the case is refilled often.

Think about the recipient. If the person you’re going to be giving the chocolate to is an adventurous eater, then think about getting exotic flavors. If the recipient is strictly a meat-two veggies-and-potatoes kind of person who thinks tacos are exotic and only likes their sushi well done, then play it safe with caramels, pralines (nut pastes), and the like. Show you’ve been paying attention. This is what chocolate is good for, cementing emotional connections. A gorgeous four-piece box from a boutique chocolate store – one that’s been hand-selected with flavors that shows you’ve been paying attention – is worth way more bonus points than the two-pound box from the department store that shows you value quantity over quality.

Tell a story. If you don’t know the recipient’s tastes very well, then use this gift as a chance to tell a story about you. If you have favorite flavors from childhood that are tied to a person or family occasion (there is a story behind them) then fill a box with those and tell the stories about why the flavors are meaningful to you when you present the gift. Sharing a bit of yourself along with the chocolate is a great gift on several levels.

The iconic Valentine’s Day chocolate? The individual heart-shaped bonbon (French for good-good) filled with a passion fruit ganache.

My favorite wine to pair chocolate with? Prosecco, the sparkling wine of Italy. Proseccos are bright and bubbly and sparkly and festive but tend not to be as alcohol-y or acidic tasting as Champagnes so they are easier drinking. Plus, the bubbles in Proseccos tend to be a little softer making the mouth feel and texture closer to chocolate. Just be sure to stay on the dry side. Keep your eyes open because there are some very tasty rosé Proseccos available these days.

*Fannie May Berries Savings pass not included in purchase of physical Gift Cards.

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About the Author: Clay Gordon is an internationally recognized independent authority on chocolate.  In addition to his writing, he has produced and delivered hundreds of chocolate tasting and “sophisticated pairings” (which can include chocolate, wine, spirits, craft beers, cheeses, charcuterie, and more) for private clients, at major international chocolate conferences, and as an adjunct faculty member in NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, where he hosted a popular series of wine and chocolate pairing classes in conjunction with the James Beard Society in 2008/09.  He is the founder of TheChocolateLife.com, the largest purposeful chocolate community on the Internet, with nearly 7000 members in over 140 countries.  If you are in the New York area, you can meet Clay at a Valentine’s Day Chef’s table with chocolate and beer pairings at 508 Restaurant and Bar www.508NYC.com.  Contact the restaurant for reservations.