1. As you enter the shop, look to confirm that it's clean and orderly - it certainly should be. The best chocolatiers are fanatical about quality, hygiene, and appearance and are very proud of their creations, working very diligently to present hem properly. The salesman will often put on a white cotton glove to handle the chocolates. This doesn't mean that hands are dirty; it's to avoid getting fingerprints on your chocolate.
2. Note the condition of the chocolates. Small bubbles on the upper edge indicate that when the chocolates were being molded, the molds ere not properly agitated to release the air. While this is a small flaw, it's a reflection on the chocolate maker's level of care and precision.
3. Check to see that the chocolates have no cracks. Cracks mean either that the fillings that were dipped were tool cold or overfilled, or that the chocolates are old. If there is filling bubbly and oozing out, it means that the insides were not hygienically prepared before being enrobed and they're spoiled. If the cracks are the result of cold filling, there s the possibility that the center may have suffered in quality, as a solid chocolate coating provides a protective case for the enclosed filling.
4. When ordering individual chocolates to be arranged in a box to fit your specifications by a salesperson, always choose the flattest chocolates first rather than those that are tall or shapely. Requesting the flat ones first means that subsequent layer(s) will be easier to pack and arrive at their destination in better condition. The chocolates on the bottom won't get damaged, and having a variety of shapes and sizes on top makes the box more attractive upon opening.
5. Handle chocolates with care after you take them from the shop. Store them properly in a cool, dark place until you eat them.
This feature, text and photo are reprinted with permission from The Great Book of Chocolate by David Lebovitz (2004, Ten Speed Press)
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