Chocolates To Stop The Show

Generic candy hearts
You can buy love.

It usually comes in a red, heart-shaped box and ranges in cocoa content. A box of chocolates is an old favorite for a reason: milk, white or dark is far better than gold or silver on Valentine's Day. And this year, you can improve upon the old standard, even if you're shopping at the last minute.

Your sweetheart isn't just another face in the crowd, so don't send an average box of chocolates. The truffles from these artisan chocolatiers are anything but cliché and they're all available online and can ship as late as Tuesday by overnight shipping. (Prices quoted in the story do not include shipping.)

In St. Helena, Calif., stands the lone though majestic storefront of Woodhouse Chocolate, where miniature works of art are crafted by a couple whose love of chocolate led them to launch the now-bustling chocolate company in 2004. After leaving the sparkling wine business and selling his family's winery, John Anderson went traveling with his wife, Tracy, for two years, searching out inspiration for their chocolates.

You can be sure they'll taste fantastic; the Andersons believe in sticking to tried-and-true flavors, but doing them very, very well. Delicate fillings of fresh cream and fruit puree are lighter than air, while every ingredient in their truffles is scrupulously researched. Unlike mass-produced chocolates (the kind you have been giving in prior years), you won't find preservatives in these; this means that you should eat up within seven days, though that probably won't be a problem.

His favorite piece is the Candied Walnut; hers is the Pecan Caramel. The Pecan Caramel piece is unique to the artisan chocolate market because it embraces American flavors that are generally not included in the palette of other top chocolate-producing countries like Belgium and France, explains John Anderson.

For Valentine's Day, among other items, the Andersons whipped up a gorgeous box of 12 hand-painted chocolates: a mix of passion fruit truffles and dark chocolate caramel hearts, in which the creamy caramel is laced with different flavors: lime, orange or vanilla ($24).

Moonstruck Chocolate Company, based in Portland, Ore., started as a small venture in 1993 and blossomed into the chocolates featured at Hollywood's major award shows. They have sweetened presenters' and performers' gift bags at the Oscars for the past two years.

Every chocolate at Moonstruck is a handmade, one-of-a kind piece, taking up to three days to complete. When Oprah Winfrey praised the truffles in 2003, she put the Bailey's Irish Cream on the map and turned millions of people on to the hand-crafted truffles.

Their Chocolate Cafés led the way for the strikingly similar ventures that have sprung up all over the country in the last few years. The quaint storefronts are like a fusion of a jewelry store and a coffee shop, with glass-enclosed cases highlighting the exquisite truffles. There are only nine cafes for now and if you're lucky, you live in Illinois, Oregon or northern California and can enjoy them. If not, you can easily order their chocolates off the Web.