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4 local Willy Wonkas you should know for chocolate season

I must admit--I’m a chocoholic. It started with M&M’s when I was little, and to this day I can’t pass a bowl without grabbing a handful. Now, my tastes are more refined -- sorry, Mars, Hershey and even you Godiva. I’m looking for a higher percentage of cocoa butter, quality ingredients and chocolate that feels smooth and velvety in my mouth. And if you think it’s only Switzerland and Belgium that make those fine chocolates, you’ll be happy to know that the D.C. area has some excellent chocolatiers.

Artisan Confections

Meet the owner of Artisan Confections, Jason Andelman, a Culinary Institute of American (CIA) graduate and professional pastry chef. What separates his creations from the mass-marketed chocolates is the high quality of the ingredients he uses. Jason’s chocolates also contain less sugar and have no preservatives. Artisan Confections’ chocolate comes from Valrhona, a French company. It’s this chocolate that he uses to make his elegant creations. And all of the other ingredients such as mint from a Maryland farm and bourbon from a Virginia distillery are of the highest quality. The most popular item in his two shops is Salted Butter Caramel Bonbons. As far as unique flavors, they change constantly and have included black sesame, lavender sage, lemon almond, and lemongrass. In addition to bonbons, they also make bars – with peanut butter, nuts, coconut, as well as caramels and decadent hot cocoa.

Fleuir Chocolates

Robert Ludlow, a graduate of Le Grand Diplome from Cordon Bleu in Australia, and his family are the owners of Fleuir Chocolate, an artisan chocolate shop. When I spoke with him, he was busy making chocolates for Valentine’s Day. At Fleuir Chocolates nothing is ever frozen so basically when you get the chocolate it’s as fresh as it can be. Each piece is made in small batches with Valrhona chocolate, no preservatives and high-quality natural ingredients. Everything they use they make in-house, from the fondant to the toffees, praline paste and caramels. And Robert believes that it should taste like what its name says. For example, raspberry chocolate has so much raspberry puree that you definitely know there’s raspberry in it. He also knows what chocolate to pair it with, since where the bean is grown influences its flavor. The most popular is Salted Caramel bonbon. In a blind taste test it was ranked one of the top ten in the country by The New York Times. For Valentine’s Day they are making a 16 piece “Be Mine Box” -- caramels, red and black currant, passion fruit gingers, hibiscus lemonade, orange blossom with pistachio praline truffle, matcha truffle and raspberry cheesecake. They also make Strawberry Hearts -- a strawberry ganache dipped in dark chocolate and sprayed with a red cocoa butter chocolate blend so they look like velvet red hearts.

Kron Chocolatier

Kron Chocolatier has been in business since 1977. And it was in 2001 that Trish Schutz, who had once worked there part time and later became a Master Chocolatier, took over ownership. Today, Trish and her son Alex own and run the business. Trish buys her chocolate, but she likes to keep where they get it a secret, but adds that it’s of the finest quality. Kron Chocolatier has milk, white and dark chocolates. When asked if dark chocolate has become more popular, Trish said, “Yes, I think people feel less guilty now that it has been said to be healthy.” Kron Chocolatier is best known for their Budapest Cream truffles made from butter, whipping cream, rum, and chocolate and has been made the same way since the '70s. Other favorites are chocolate Turtles and dipped fresh fruits. If you stop in the store or browse their website you’ll also see that they make chocolate, chocolate computers, chocolate animals and, of course, chocolate hearts, chocolate cards and foiled hearts.

Harper Macaw

Sarah and Colin Hartman turned a vacant former warehouse and distribution facility in NE into a truly wonderful world of chocolate. At Harper Macaw they make their own chocolate from Brazilian beans, Sarah’s home country. And a portion of the proceeds from their chocolate bars are reinvested in rain forest conservation in Brazil. Harper Macaw makes milk chocolate (52%), and darker chocolate that run from 67 % to 74% to 77%. They wanted a 67% to ease people into loving dark chocolate. Harper Macaw is a bean-to-bar craft chocolate manufacturer. The bars include Bourbon Barrel Aged 73% Dark Chocolate and Hot Commodity 56% CafĂ© Mocha. For Valentine’s Day they’ve made “Bite Me” a 4-Bar Gift Collection and The Harper Macaw Sweetheart Bonbon Collection. And coming soon will be chocolates drops for baking. But as far as new bars, that’s a secret. Come on a Saturday for a factory tour that ends with -- what else--tastings. Harper Macaw chocolate is in over 50 area stores, a boutique shop in the factory, and is online.