A couple of years ago after giving a chocolate tasting, I was approached by a husband and wife from the audience who boldly announced to me, "We know what the best chocolate in the world is."
Naturally, I was intrigued, so I asked the name (which I do not remember) and had to admit that I'd never heard of the place, which was in a small town near Turin, Italy. As I'd never been to the town nor heard of the shop, I was not able to offer an opinion about whether or not the chocolate actually was the best in the world.
The man went on to explain that they happened across the chocolate shop while he and his wife were on their honeymoon. At this point I knew that there was nothing I could do to convince these two that the chocolate wasn't the best in the world because it had nothing to do with the chocolate—and everything to do with their memories of the emotions surrounding the experience of eating the chocolate.
The Perfect Setting May Lead to the Perfect Chocolate
Let me paint the picture more clearly. You're on your honeymoon and you and your new spouse are driving through the Italian countryside in a sexy Italian convertible with the top down because it's a picture-postcard-perfect kind of day: the sky is deep blue and clear cloud-free, the temperature is exceedingly pleasant, and the air redolent of the rich smells of, well, Italy. You stop in an ancient-looking little town for lunch and you have a perfectly wonderful meal al fresco in a little piazza with a fountain in the middle that dates, according to your extremely good-looking waiter, from Roman times. Oh, and did I mention that you are on your honeymoon? After lunch (which includes a bottle of Prosecco) you stroll across the square and discover a small chocolate shop. You go in, purchase a few pieces including a local specialty—gianduja made with Piemonte hazelnuts—and sit on the lip of the fountain to share them with your love.
Of course it's the best chocolate in the world.
Closer to home, if you grew up visiting a favorite aunt on Martha's Vineyard each summer, and at the end of the week (or two weeks) she took you to Chilmark Chocolates and told you you could pick out a pound box of anything you wanted and you looked forward to this with so much anticipation each year that it became a highlight of your visit with your aunt—well, there's no way I can convince you that Chilmark Chocolates are not the best in the world, even though they're not (having tasted them and speaking professionally as a chocolate critic).
Why Chocolate is Emotional
Chocolate is an unusual gourmet food in that, unlike wines and spirits, for example, we start eating it at a very young age. Therefore our taste for chocolate as adults is founded on these early childhood memories that are laden with emotions. And when we revisit these places as adults—when we have more experienced, sophisticated palates—we usually recognize that it's not as good as we remember it.
But it doesn't matter. That's because there is that one special piece that transports us back to a happy place in our childhood. Pretty much everyone I have ever talked to has at least one of these memories about a kind of chocolate shop I call a "Hometown Favorite."
My Hometown Favorite: See's
For me, it's a See's Candies shop in Los Angeles. Every year we went to one and got a box of Victoria Toffee for my mother's birthday. To this day, my memories of this toffee (and of my mother sharing it with me and my two sisters) shape my responses to any toffee I eat, even though I don't think I've eaten it in over 30 years.
How about you? What's your favorite "Hometown Favorite" chocolate shop and memory?
All products linked here have been independently selected by our editors. We may earn a commission on purchases, as described in our affiliate policy.