Is that love in the air, or just the smell of chocolate? (Is there even a difference?) With artisans from Taos to Mesilla dreaming up fresh spins on bonbons, truffles, mousses, and more, exploring New Mexico’s sweet side has never been more decadent. These six craft chocolatiers work locally and by hand. Some use single-source beans, others focus on organic ingredients or highlight Southwest flavors. But they all offer a unique take on a February favorite.
1. The Art of Chocolate/Cacao Santa Fe
Seasonal fan faves like raspberry rose or Meyer lemon with champagne dazzle taste buds at The Art of Chocolate/Cacao Santa Fe. But the striking designs hand painted into molds or stenciled onto truffles are just as much a feast for the eyes. Among the most dramatic are a set of bold black-and-white patterns taken from ancient Chaco Canyon pottery, which contained residue of theobromine, a biomarker for cacao. Cacao Santa Fe celebrates New Mexico’s native flavors like green chile, piñon, juniper, and prickly pear while sourcing its beans directly from small farmers and roasting them in-house. “That allows us to control the cacao percentage, sugar content, and flavor profile,” says Melanie Boudar, one of the founders. The company, which moved to Santa Fe in 2016, went mail order only in 2021.
2. Chokola Bean to Bar
Dip a spoon into something luxurious and silky at the mousse bar at Chokola. Based on a French trend, the rotating selection always includes an authentic mousse au chocolat as well as more experimental styles and flavors, says Debi Vincent, who owns the shop with her husband, Javi Abad. Or spice things up with the Taos-based boutique’s seasonal Kama Sutra–themed chocolates made in molds inspired by the ancient erotic text. “It’s funny to see people’s faces,” Vincent says. “It’s pretty intense.” Even health-conscious epicures will find something to love. Vincent’s new Realisation line eschews sugar for fruit-based sweeteners and boasts superfood inclusions like acai berries and bee pollen. Best of all, Chokola’s bars are made of a single cacao with a unique flavor. Drop in or call for the latest selection. Shipping available, but not for mousses.
3. Chocolate Cartel
Chocolate Cartel’s bars, gourmet gelatos, and snacking chocolates are available at markets and co-ops throughout the state. But for their prized, small-batch truffles featuring uniquely New Mexico flavors like Los Poblanos lavender and chile, devotees must venture into Chocolate Cartel’s Albuquerque retail space (or order online). “Dark chocolate is our favorite and has become our main focus,” says Troy Lowe, head chocolatier. “It is truly what ‘real’ chocolate is composed of.” He said there are just two days a year that he dips strawberries: February 13 and 14. But the local favorite is the berry boats: chocolate cups filled with pastry cream, topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries, and finished with a chocolate lattice.
4. The Chocolate Dude
“Creativity” tops the list of ingredients at The Chocolate Dude in Albuquerque. Some of the shop’s wilder offerings? Dude Food—a.k.a. dark chocolate-covered kettle chips—and imaginative truffle flavors like mango-Tajin. “I really enjoy working with our dark and way-dark chocolates,” says Patricia Klaus, the 22-year-old who bought the business in January 2020 after working there for years. “It’s always fun having an idea and creating something unique.” She calls the shop’s Valentine’s Day bouquets—a dozen dipped strawberries alongside fresh, local roses and sticks of chocolate-covered frozen raspberries—a “total crowd-pleaser!” Klaus sources non-GMO and Rainforest Alliance–certified chocolate and offers vegan selections, too. Drop into Klaus’ Nob Hill shop to watch treats being made, or order online (pre-order only for bouquets). Curbside pickup or delivery within a 10-mile radius.
5. Shugarman’s Little Shop
Harvey Shugarman’s 420 square feet on Madrid’s main drag are stuffed with art, from local works on the walls to the hand-carved display case that greets visitors to the inventive chocolates on offer inside. After more than three decades in the restaurant biz, he began playing with chocolate. “I took some to a party, and everybody fell in love with it,” he says. His specialty? Chocolate barks in a dizzying array of experimental flavors. There’s green chile cashew with Thai lemongrass and margarita salt. There’s red chile mango dark chocolate. And he’s converted plenty of doubters to his 35 percent cocoa butter white, which he pairs with candied ginger and hibiscus. “Because I’m small and I’m not wholesaling, I can just play with stuff,” says the self-described “old hippie” who opened his shop in 2012. He usually keeps about 15 bark varieties on hand. Drop in or call to order. Shipping available.
6. The Chocolate Lady
Cherries, pretzels, cashews, apples, and pecans. If it can be dipped in chocolate, it is at The Chocolate Lady’s tiny storefront just off the Mesilla Plaza. A seasonal favorite? The chocolate-covered strawberries, which are offered only on Valentine’s Day, says shop owner Linda Ramirez-Jackson. She went into the business 22 years ago after a career in record storage and as a hospital film library supervisor. Before then, she dabbled in confectionary out of her home kitchen. One thing has remained the same through the years: It’s all small-batch. “Our caramel, we make it fresh from scratch. Our truffles take three days to make by hand,” Ramirez-Jackson says. “It’s not sitting on a shelf.” She incorporates locally grown pecans, and buys other ingredients in town. “My store is little. I’m constantly at the grocery store,” she joked. “I live there.” Drop in or call for her latest selection.
Travel journalist and chocoholic Jessica Fender chronicles her crosscountry adventures at travelerbroads.com.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.