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Chocolates To Stop The Show

You can buy love.

It usually comes in a red, heart-shaped box and ranges in cocoa content. A box of chocolates is an old favorite for a reason: milk, white or dark is far better than gold or silver on Valentine's Day. And this year, you can improve upon the old standard, even if you're shopping at the last minute.

Your sweetheart isn't just another face in the crowd, so don't send an average box of chocolates. The truffles from these artisan chocolatiers are anything but cliché and they're all available online and can ship as late as Tuesday by overnight shipping. (Prices quoted in the story do not include shipping.)

In St. Helena, Calif., stands the lone though majestic storefront of Woodhouse Chocolate, where miniature works of art are crafted by a couple whose love of chocolate led them to launch the now-bustling chocolate company in 2004. After leaving the sparkling wine business and selling his family's winery, John Anderson went traveling with his wife, Tracy, for two years, searching out inspiration for their chocolates.

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You can be sure they'll taste fantastic; the Andersons believe in sticking to tried-and-true flavors, but doing them very, very well. Delicate fillings of fresh cream and fruit puree are lighter than air, while every ingredient in their truffles is scrupulously researched. Unlike mass-produced chocolates (the kind you have been giving in prior years), you won't find preservatives in these; this means that you should eat up within seven days, though that probably won't be a problem.

His favorite piece is the Candied Walnut; hers is the Pecan Caramel. The Pecan Caramel piece is unique to the artisan chocolate market because it embraces American flavors that are generally not included in the palette of other top chocolate-producing countries like Belgium and France, explains John Anderson.

For Valentine's Day, among other items, the Andersons whipped up a gorgeous box of 12 hand-painted chocolates: a mix of passion fruit truffles and dark chocolate caramel hearts, in which the creamy caramel is laced with different flavors: lime, orange or vanilla ($24).

Moonstruck Chocolate Company, based in Portland, Ore., started as a small venture in 1993 and blossomed into the chocolates featured at Hollywood's major award shows. They have sweetened presenters' and performers' gift bags at the Oscars for the past two years.

Every chocolate at Moonstruck is a handmade, one-of-a kind piece, taking up to three days to complete. When Oprah Winfrey praised the truffles in 2003, she put the Bailey's Irish Cream on the map and turned millions of people on to the hand-crafted truffles.

Their Chocolate Cafés led the way for the strikingly similar ventures that have sprung up all over the country in the last few years. The quaint storefronts are like a fusion of a jewelry store and a coffee shop, with glass-enclosed cases highlighting the exquisite truffles. There are only nine cafes for now and if you're lucky, you live in Illinois, Oregon or northern California and can enjoy them. If not, you can easily order their chocolates off the Web.

Need a gift to swoop your Valentines off their feet? Every year, Moonstruck features an entire line devoted to the day of love. Roses are so cliché; this year, send flowers that they'll really savor: one dozen rose-shaped truffles bundled up in a red linen box ($36). The assortment includes orange-rose buttercream, champagne and extra-bittersweet truffles, to name a few.

For the more refined palate, DC Duby Wild Sweets offers ice wine chocolates that are unlike anything you've ever tasted before. Owners Dominique and Cindy Duby, pastry chefs based in Vancouver Canada, launched an online chocolate boutique in 2004.

The Dubys are serious about chocolate. Their products are more the result of science than kitchen tinkering, using sensory chemistry to develop innovative flavors and textures. Each year, DC Duby collaborates with students studying food science at the local university and sponsors their research — on a topic of the Dubys' choosing, of course.

Through science, then, was the ice wine collection born. Ice wine is made from grapes harvested after they have frozen on the vine, resulting in a much sweeter taste. There are four different flavors in the collection and all are based on the notes and character of wines from the Inniskillin Winery.

The wine-infused chocolates include a Riesling with notes of peach and citrus, a Cabernet Franc that hints of strawberry and apple, a Vidal tinted with tropical and orange and a Vidal Oak-Aged with hints of apricot and lychee.

Still searching for that perfect gift for a food connoisseur who has tried it all? Look no farther. These adult-only morsels will cost you; they run about $40 for 12 pieces. But they are an experience in themselves and well worth it, especially for your Valentine.

Norman Love may be best known for the artisan chocolates he designed to amp up Godiva's selection, known as the G Collection (sold online through Godiva during select months of the year), but his own chocolates are the real show stoppers. Since 2001, Norman Love Confections has been bestowing the world with some of the best chocolates in the U.S. Each piece is meticulously executed and is its own hand-airbrushed piece of art. The fillings are silky and luxurious; the presentation is stunning.

When ordering online, his pieces are sorted by the kind of chocolate that encases the filling – white, milk or dark chocolate. Fillings like lemon cream ganache, roasted Hawaiian macadamia nuts, ripe strawberries and Caribbean rums laced with Madagascar vanilla ensure that each of these delicacies is fantastically unique. Chef Norman swears by only the purest and finest ingredients and sources from places as far away from his Fort Meyer location as Thailand (a special Thai coconut powder.)

When you have chocolates that taste like these, there's no need for a special holiday line. For Valentine's Day, Chef Norman has selected his finest pieces for a 40-piece heart-shaped box that would set even the coldest Cupid's heart aflutter ($75).
By Brittney J. Andres

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