Splurge-Worthy Artisanal Chocolate

Try sarsaparilla truffles and other tasty candies from some of the best chocolatiers in the West.

Intrigue Chocolate Seattle, Washington, picture
Intrigue Chocolate’s flavors change daily.
Brooke Fitts

Mint-chip gelato bars. Lemon-ginger-turmeric truffles. There’s no denying it: Chocolate has come a long way since 1900, when the first Hershey bar landed. Today, artisans across the West are making sophisticated (and tasty) creations. Here are a few treats to try.

Aaron Barthel never set out to become a chocolate maker. But the erstwhile farmer, brewer, baker, and botanist happened into it after tinkering with a candy recipe, fusing chocolate with habanero chiles. The results were delicious, and his hobby blossomed into a business: Intrigue Chocolate. Today, the Seattle chocolatier creates truffles with adventurous flavors—boozy caipirinha, zesty everything-bagel, and even rich Parmesan cheese. Sample the wares at Intrigue’s tasting bar in Pioneer Square.

At its headquarters in Scottsdale, ArizonaZak’s Chocolate likes to keep things local. The company sources honey from an apiary in town, prickly pear from a cactus farm in Green Valley, and java roasted by Peixoto Coffee in Chandler. Meanwhile, the Porter Malted Milk Chocolate gets its distinctive taste from an ingredient that’s local and recycled: the cacao nibs that Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company uses to brew such beers as the Chocolate Bunny Imperial Milk Porter.

Tcho Chocolate’s sweets can be as intense as the brightly colored wrappers that enfold them. The company was cofounded by a former NASA scientist, and—as you might expect—it applies rigorous standards to its products. Not only are the beans meticulously sourced from farms in Ecuador, Ghana, and elsewhere, but the farmers who grow them train at the company’s flavor labs to learn to harvest beans at their prime. Book a tour of Tcho’s factory in Berkeley, California, to see where the magic happens—and taste goodies afterward.

Even in Las Vegas, a city full of celebrity chefs, Jean-Marie Auboine impresses. The master chocolatier’s sweets have twice earned honors in the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France craft competition. Drop by Auboine’s eponymous shop for caramelized almonds enrobed in dark chocolate or bonbons filled with Mexican vanilla bean ganache.

When Tim Kellogg headed to the 2003 Cody Stampede, his goal was simple: He would sell his homemade truffles to raise funds for a new bronc saddle. But his candy was such a hit, the cowboy realized he was on to something bigger. Now, at Meeteetse Chocolatier (in Meeteetse, Wyoming), Kellogg marries Wild West ingredients such as sage and sarsaparilla with delicate Belgian-style truffles. Stop by the shop—housed in a former saloon on the town’s main drag—to savor his freshly minted creations.

Melding chocolate and almonds with smoky blue cheese from neighboring Rogue Creamery, Oregon’s Lillie Belle Farms Handmade Chocolates creates a bite-size treat reminiscent of chocolate cheesecake. Other candies, such as the lavender sea-salt caramel, showcase flavors from the farm itself. Today, the Central Point–based company churns out 20,000 pounds of chocolate annually—a serious feat for a shop that began as a farmers’ market stand 15 years ago.