Bar None

Chocolate bars suddenly are resembling wines—at least in terms of marketing: single-estate, Fair Trade chocolate, chocolate with percentages (the amount of cocoa in it), chocolate that reflects terroir. And, like wines, their cost is up, too. (Actually, a wine cellar is not a bad place to store your chocolate—it’s cool, dark, and the humidity is controlled—and maybe the kids won’t think to look there for it.)

Why the high cost? The old supply-and-demand dictum holds. Chocolate, grown in war-torn regions of the world, has become scarcer. Roughly 68 percent of the cocoa-bean crop is grown in Western Africa, and, with fighting encroaching on the cocoa fields themselves, harvesting and production have become difficult to maintain. Even Hershey’s prices were raised 13 to 15 percent in 2007.

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Still if you’re looking for an exceptional bar for your valentine—or, heck, any old time—know what to look for. Two elements make up our chocolate experience: the cacao and the cocoa butter. The cacao percentage determines the chocolate’s intensity. The smoothness and creaminess of the chocolate depend on the amount of cocoa butter. Usually the higher the percentage of cacao, the more bitter the chocolate. These percentages alone, however, do not guarantee the quality of the bar. The quality is determined by many things you won’t find on the label, such as the manufacturer’s experience in chocolate making, the quality of the cocoa beans selected, the manufacturing processes (e.g., roasting and grinding), the recipe used, and the quality of other ingredients used.

You can check labels for artificial vanilla, added cheaper fats (like palm kernel oil), and flavorings. Milk chocolate should also contain real milk. In mass-market chocolates, milk gets replaced with other ingredients and sugar gets added in part as a preservative to make the chocolate sweet. Scharffenberger Chocolates makes chocolate bars with 62 percent cocoa; bittersweet (70 percent); extra-dark (82 percent); and milk chocolate (41 percent); they are sold at the Bedford Gourmet (652 Old Post Rd, Bedford 914-234-9409).

You could also look for The Fair Trade symbol on a label. Your Valentine might appreciate that the label reflects fair and long-term relations with the planters and workers and ethical conditions for growing and production. So-called single-estate chocolate is likely to be carefully produced because the beans are picked and processed from one or select estates, under controlled conditions by knowledgeable producers. This chocolate is likely to be unadulterated and to have a singular flavor. Find El Rey single-bean Venezuelan chocolate Apamate 73.5 percent cocoa at Chappaqua Village Market (12 King St, Chappaqua 914-238-4948).

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