The word connoisseur is thrown around too much these days. Knowing how to sniff brandy, aerate your red wine or distinguish between East and West Coast oysters is simply a matter of being astute. Likewise, knowing the joys of nibbling on small squares of 70 percent dark chocolate with a hint of sea salt does not an expert make. If you're vying to upgrade from bystander to real connoisseur -- from social chocolate-lover to official taste-tester --it's time to go behind the scenes.
Everyone knows by now that Switzerland and Belgium are famous for their chocolate. And any chocolate-eater worth their weight in cacao has likely graduated from Hershey's and Cadbury to smaller-batch, fair trade, organic chocolate by now. But how many serious choco-lovers have ventured to factories across the globe for tours, lessons in cacao history and all-important taste-tests?
Well, the good news is that not all the worthwhile tours are in Europe -- there are US-based factories, too, that churn out rich, bitter, fantasy-inducing chocolates and they give just as fascinating tours. Theo's Chocolates in Seattle and Mast Brothers in Brooklyn, for example, are leaders of organic, mouth-watering chocolate producing in the U.S. and they open their doors to curious (read: desperate) visitors on a regular basis.
As is only right, some of the most luxuriating, traditional chocolatiers in Switzerland and Belgium have hour-long factory tours, delving into the history of chocolate and into the processes of making truffles, chocolate bars, and special treats. Confiserie Sprüngli in Zürich and Maison Callier in Broc-Gruyère are among the most sumptuous tours you can take.
With factories that welcome guests from San Francisco to Australia, there are ample opportunities to distinguish yourself as a true connoisseur. Just try not to look pityingly on at passersby who are still unwrapping Twix bars and Kit Kats. They know not what they do.
- Leora Novick, The Daily Meal
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Fine Farm Dining Around the World
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Set in the Swiss countryside, Maison Cailler is one of the founders of milk chocolate. Straying from the commonly used powdered milk, Alexandre-Louis Cailler used fresh cows' milk to create that creamy texture we associate today with milk chocolate. Maison Cailler isn't afraid of sharing, so visitors can partake in classes on truffle making (complete with choco-vernacular and a Cailler apron) before they wander the grounds of the magnificent Swiss home, which always smells of chocolate. Related: The Biggest Food Festival You've Never Heard Of Photo Credit: © Flickr/dongga BS
A one-hour tour of Stettler Chocolate Factory in Switzerland showcases just how Glacé slabs, a favorite of Princess Masako of Japan, and perfectly rounded truffles with flavors like champagne, plum, whiskey, and rum are made. These creamy chocolates are known for being created with the utmost care, so the tour takes visitors from a brief history through tasting and ends with a gift to remember your experience by. Related: Touring the Wisconsin Cheese Trail Photo Credit: © Flickr/ali ckel
Have you ever stopped to think about that mind-blowing, silence-rendering, time-freezing moment that occurs when you take that first bite of chocolate? So does everyone at Zurich's Confiserie Sprungli. With chocolates in every shape and flavor and multi-colored macaroons, their true masterpieces are truffles. Open since 1859, they've been delighting palates and melting troubles with these freshly made truffles, which are meant to be eaten within 24 hours. Related: 7 Budget-Friendly Substitutes for Europe's Top Cities Photo Credit: © Flickr/wallyg
If you are one of the many who consider chocolate to be an art form, then you will love Mast Brothers Chocolate. Housed in a small Brooklyn warehouse, this chocolate factory is all about organic ingredients, an open work environment, and design-conscious packaging. Visitors can take a tour of the factory to see how flavors like Serrano Peppers, Fleur de Sel, and Stumptown Coffee are made. Related: World's Best Duty-Free Scores Photo Credit: © Flickr/prizepony
Pull back the curtain on just how rich and creamy chocolates are made, at the Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory. For a true taste of Vermont, try the Maple Crunch and Green Mountain chocolates, featuring maple syrup and fresh Vermont honey. Take a seat at one of the factory tables and watch as the chocolates you're ooh-ing and aah-ing over are made in the open kitchen. You'll wish you could bottle that warm, chocolate-y aroma that fills your nostrils. Related: 10 Classic Renaissance Faires Across America Photo Credit: © Flickr/roboppy
Walking through the TCHO Factory may feel like entering a science lab. TCHO sources their beans meticulously, focusing on the cacao beans' quality and which farms they come from. Their hour-long tour educates visitors on the history of chocolate, TCHO's unique processes, and how their famous New American Chocolate is made from scratch. Of course, it also includes a guided chocolate tasting. Related: Fine Farm Dining Around the World Photo Credit: © Flickr/Laughing Squid
Theo Chocolates is known as the first chocolate factory in America to become fully organic. Focused on fair-trade farming and sustainability, Theo Chocolates is passionate from bean to bar and they're ready to impart that knowledge and love on visitors. Tours include a brief on chocolate history (from farming to ecological impacts), a discussion on cacao farming, and, of course, a look at how they transform those beans into succulent chocolates. The sampling can't come too soon. Related: 11 Distillery Tours That Take It to the Next Level Photo Credit: © Flickr/Katie & Ian
Now that we've established that you are addicted to chocolate (this is slide seven and you're still with us), you should know about Haigh's Chocolates, which opened in 1915 as one of the original family-owned chocolate shops in Australia. Book a spot on their free factory tour to see the chocolate-making process firsthand. For a sweet ending, each visitor can sit down, relax, and enjoy some freshly made chocolates, free of charge of course. Related: 12 Airports with the Best Food Around the World Photo Credit: © Flickr/Kodamakitty
Which came first, Perugina's Baci or Hershey's Kisses? No matter, they're both delicious. Make a pit stop at Perugina Tour and Chocolate School in Perugia, Italy to see where those sweet Italian kisses are made. A factory tour and a stroll through their museum may please some, but true chocolate-lovers looking to delve deeper can also enroll in the company's Chocolate School to learn the craft firsthand. Related: 5 Bites of Venice, Italy Photo Credit: © Flickr/newyork808
Côte D'or Chocolates has created a specialized tour, called the Temple of Chocolate, that makes you feel like you were whisked back in time. (It's put on for kids, loved by adults.) It takes you on an interactive tour through the Toltec temple, the Spanish Galleon, and finally, the old factory, where you'll revel in chocolate knowledge and even though you wish it would never end, you'll also yearn desperately for that chocolate sample that comes when it's over. Related: 10 Top Athletes' Super Luxe Getaways Photo Credit: © Flickr/Kmeron
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