Not too long ago I was a bittersweet chocolate snob. I would only eat chocolate bars with a very high percentage of cacao, the higher the better. But I've discovered some milk chocolate recently that I really love. If you only eat high percentage cacao, I urge you to try some of the more exquisite milk chocolates on the market. They may surprise you. They certainly surprised me.
Milk chocolate has milk powder or condensed milk as an ingredient and generally has much lower percentages of cacao. Having tasted lots of chocolate, I am still very fussy about what I like and what I don't like. Regardless of the cacao content, good chocolate has to have clean flavors, it can't be too sweet, too salty or overwhelmed by flavorings such as vanilla. It should melt smoothly without a hint of graininess. It should be so good that even a little bit satisfies.
When it comes to milk chocolate, I highly recommend each of these bars:
Scharffen Berger Milk Almond
Sea Salted Almonds & Milk Chocolate
41% cacao, 3. ounces $4.95
If you like nuts with your chocolate, this is the bar for you. It's perfectly balanced with just a little crunch of nuts, not big chunks. The salt is barely perceptible, which is to my liking. If offers luscious caramel notes and is rich and creamy.
This bar feels most like an everyday bar. It's like a Hershey bar with almonds, but all grown up and way, way more satisfying.
Scharffen Berger is now owned by Hershey and unfortunately I have no idea where the cacao beans come from. Scharffen Berger has always promoted the idea of blends rather than single origin bars, though they do sometimes put out limited edition bars from time to time that are single origin.
33% cacao, 2.5 ounces, $5.99
The Tanariva proves even a bar with very low cacao content can be rich and complex. It is very smooth, like all Valrhona chocolate, but also has some acid to it and so it doesn't seem terribly sweet, just milky, creamy and with a bit of citrus as well. Valrhona uses exceptionally high quality beans, in this case they are from Madagascar.
Don't compare this with a dark chocolate bar, just enjoy it for what it is. I think it may be the best bar with only 33% cacao. It has a lot going on.
The bar comes in an innovative form, with asymmetrical breaking lines intended to make it easier to break and share. I am finding the Valrhona "tasting" bars available in more and more shops these days.
Original Beans Esmeraldas Milk Bar with Fleur de Sel
42% cacao,3.57 ounces, $11.95
This bar is an indulgence. It is perfectly suited for gift giving but you might just want to be the recipient. I don't detect any salt at all, just heightened chocolate intensity. It has lots of dark toffee notes, a lovely buttery texture and flavor. It has an extremely long finish and amazing depth. It's conched for 50 hours, from Arriba beans that come from Ecuador (interestingly I tried another Arriba bar from another manufacturer and I didn't like it at all).
The founders of Original Beans are committed to sustainability and each bar carries a tracking number so you can learn more about the conservation efforts at the rainforest where the beans for your bar originated. The price is higher than most bars, but for every bar your buy the company plants a tree in the region of the bean's origin to replenish and protect the areas where the cacao beans grow. It's also a much bigger bar than the others.