This is not about Scharffen-Berger for cooking and baking. This is about eating chocolate, and it's serious business.
Let snobs say what they will, but milk chocolate's my favorite. No, it doesn't have enough flavanoids to kiss your heart back to life after artery-clogging food bliss. Yes, it's mixed with thickened, sweetened dairy that sullies the forbidden mambo that is life lived close to the nib. But it's the comfort food of the candy world.
Now that that's out of the way, let's get on to what you really want to know. What milk chocolate should you be eating?
At the high end, just say NO to Godiva. It's overprocessed. I'm not a fan of Joseph Schmidt either. The truffle innards are to die for, but the exterior is hard-crack shell with little flavor (where's the snap, Joseph, hmmm?). I put Lindt (Swiss) and Droste (Dutch) in the overprocessed and washed out flavor category, too. (Except for Lindt white chocolate with coconut, which is divine, but not really chocolate.) Toblerone had better watch itself. If it weren't for fillers, it'd be out on its sweet chocolate behind even when offered free to a bored mouth (and let's not fool ourselves -- it's made by Kraft). Then there's Perugina, an Italian offering. Just this side of brown wax--blech. I'm no big fan of Ghiradelli for the same reason (which came to San Francisco by way of Italy). Stick to gelato, Italy.
So what's good? Drumroll, please...
Weiss: It's heavy: creamy and smooth. The flavor is dense. And unlike the other big name brands that fool us into buying their products for packaging or social cache, Weiss sells subtly wrapped bars that depend on the know-how of centuries famous chocolatiers from Saint-Etienne, France. I very much prefer Weiss over the less stunning Valrhona (that's a French chocolate that stands up to cooking--and should stay in the pot).
Butlers: This Irish chocolate is milky, almost too milky, but its dairy heart beats softly with the brown rhythms of chocolate. You get the idea: melt in your mouth goodness.
Green and Black's: Sweet, organic English goodness. Breaks cleanly, crisply, and packs flaaavor.
Valor: A Spanish chocolate that carries a deeper, roastier flavor than most milk chocolates. Combine this with dense but not overpowering creaminess and marcona almonds, and you're in heaven. One of my favorites.
Hachez: German chocolate so dark and deep, you won't want out of the mud. I was so moved after my first taste of Hachez, I wrote the company. Yes, really.
Dagoba: Another organic chocolate, this one from the U.S. I like it, but not quite as much as Green and Black's. The flavor's not as sharp. (Great website, btw -- worth a visit.)
Newman's Own: Yet another organic brand, this one touted by legendary actor and charitable food business pioneer Paul Newman. The man's got his face on some exceptionally good milk chocolate. It's sweeter in tone than some of the others here, but dreamy to the American palate. Moderately creamy. I have developed no resistance to its cocoa virus, despite years of suffering from Newman chocolate fever.
Cadbury: Cadbury's the Hershey's of England, and that's why the English have kicked our butts in the Chocolate Wars. Hershey's can't hold a candle to the creamy, straighforward chocolate goodness of a Cadbury's bar. I'm particularly fond of Fruit and Nut, but the Breakaway, the Roasted Almond, and Whole Nut will do juuust fine.
And now I'm going to be completely chi-chi in my own right, and recommend single origin chocolates. These chocolates are made from beans cultivated in a single location on the globe (although guaranteed to be within 10% of the equator, since that's where the beans grow). Whatever chocolatier manufactures them, single-origin bars offer a transcendent taste experience. Can you say "world peace" with your mouth full? Maybe not, but it'll be fun practicing.
Lake Champlaign Chocolates, which makes very good creamy, Butlers-esque American craft chocolates (their caramel isn't bad either), does single-origin chocolate well. But they're dark chocolate bars, so we can't technically count them here. And I haven't had the much touted Michel Cluizel, so I can't recommend them yet.
I do recommend Santander Columbian. You must taste this exquisite, delicate, honeyed confection to believe it. Here's what Chocosphere has to say about Santander:
"Chocolate Santander, the only single origin chocolate produced in Colombia and one of South America's most special, takes its name from the State of Santander, Eastern Colombia. The privileged terrains of the Andean mountains of Yariguies yields Colombia's best cacao, known by its exquisite and delicate flavor. This incomparable cacao is the result of the region's unique geographic and agricultural conditions...Cacao pods, in colorful yellows and reds, oranges, and violets, are hand harvested with scissors and forks, split-open with short machetes, sorted, fermented in wooden boxes, and then dried in the sun on wooden boards, all according to a centuries-old tradition that brings out the outstanding organoleptic attributes of Chocolate Santander." Ay me, and you thought Columbian coffee was good.
Tags: chocolate, chocolate review, food, food review, foodie, gourmet