11/13/2012 12:41 pm ET Updated Jan 13, 2013

Hot Chocolate: Artisan and Upstart Chocolate Companies Are the New Foodie Favorite

The new hot trend in chocolate is all about the startup and artisan chocolatier. There are literally thousands of specialty creators throughout the country offering everything from organic to free trade to gourmet, with cool, unexpected and creative flavors that turn this classic culinary favorite into an incredible treat. Many are handmade, scratch made and small batch, making them an ultra-exclusive and eclectic item during the holidays or for giving as gifts.

They're crazy creative with ingredients, pairing chocolates of all kinds with things like potato chips, bee pollen caramel, sweet basil, chipotle spices, mexican chocolates, rosemary, maple syrup and unexpected fruits of all kinds, including pear and mango. Even the classics like nougat and nuts are getting an update with European techniques and smoky, funky flavors. Truffles are the hot item, but you'll find plenty of chocolate barks, chocolate-covered fruits and nuts and of course, chocolate bars.

What makes the trend so cool is that virtually any chocolate you buy can be worked into a huge variety of desserts, and can also put a cool spin on hot chocolate. Just heat milk and add in a piece of something from a favorite confectioner. It can also be added into coffee, blended into ice cream or served alone after dinner.

Most of the artisan companies in the market have websites to sell online. They're amazing for gifting to friends, family and business associates. Everybody loves chocolate, but it's especially chic with unique blends and mixes, ingredients, styles and shapes.

The National Chocolate Show this month is the place to be for discovering (and sampling!) upstart, artisan and gourmet chocolate brands. We'll be on hand at the show to find a few great favorites, which we'll be sharing as part of Condiment's upcoming holiday editions here on Condiment's Huffington Post blog, as well as on Condiment starting next week.

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