The Good: Delicious for those who like the powerful cacao flavor, Good assortment
The Bad: Expensive, bulky.
The Basics: Near perfect, the 70% Cacao box of Russell Stover Private Reserve chocolates is a must-try for anyone who likes their chocolate dark and intriguing.
On the return trip from Las Vegas, my wife and I made a few stops. Two years ago, I discovered I could essentially make a little refrigerator area in my car under the passenger seats which would allow me to keep precious cargo protected from the sun. In this case, when I refer to "precious cargo," I refer to chocolate. For those who might not know, in the middle of the country, there are Russell Stover's candy factories and outlet centers. As a result, there are reasons to stop and pick up inexpensive, high-quality chocolates throughout Kansas and Missouri. Last year, after having a good show in Las Vegas, we stopped at one of the outlet centers in Missouri and I treated myself to a few boxes of Russell Stover Private Reserve chocolates. The first one I have been eager to review is the 70% Cacao Assortment.
The 70% Cacao (yes, that is the correct spelling) Assortment comes in a gold box and is designed for those who like their chocolate dark, not terribly sweet and well-presented. The box makes a nice gift with its foil cover and the simple style of it, but as my intent was to gorge on fine chocolate, it seemed a bit bulky to me.
The Russell Stover Private Reserve line is a collection of more expensive, finer chocolates than the regular line. Quality is put at the forefront and the 70% Cacao Assortment is intended for those who love very dark chocolate. The 2 7/8 oz. box comes with only six pieces of chocolate, one each of the Mayan, Milan, Verona, Toulon, Cannes and Palazzo. The 70% Cacao assortment comes in a fancy gold foil box which is a six inch square and 1 1/2" tall. It opens easily by pulling the top up.
Ease of Preparation
Usually, I focus on how to prepare a food product, but eating chocolates is as easy as opening a box and pulling chocolates out of the box and sticking them in your mouth. So, instead, here is how to recognize the wonderful components of the 70% Cacao box (in case you and your box get separated from one another!).
The Mayan is an individually-wrapped chocolate patty, like a little York Peppermint Patty. The red foil-wrapped confection stands out in the box of 70% Cacao as it is the only individually-wrapped chocolate in the box. This candy is an inch and a half in diameter and about three-eighths inches thick. It has a ribbed top and preparing it is as easy as unwrapping the foil and popping it in one's mouth! I recommend biting it in half or quarters, though.
The Milan is one of two square chocolates in the 70% Cacao Assortment. Unlike the Verona, which has sharp corners for a square candy, the Milan is a dark chocolate square (almost a cube) with softer edges than the Verona. It is an inch square by five-eighths inches tall. The top of the Milan is slightly rounded and it is molded with a few drizzled chocolate lines on its top, making it look like a more traditional Russell Stover chocolate.
By contrast, the Verona has very sharp lines, though it has a similar shape to the Milan. The Verona is like a little pyramid that was chopped off midway or an inverted, squared peanut butter cup for its shape. At its base, the Verona is a 1 1/4" square and at the top it is 1" square. With a flat bottom and a flat top with an "RS" imprinted on it, the Verona is a distinct, stylish chocolate with sides that have faint indentations for texture.
The Toulon is a dark chocolate truffle that is molded to look like a walnut shell. The half-shell look of the Toulon is distinctive with its veins and dome. It is one and a half inches long and 1 1/8" wide with a dome that is a full 5/8" tall.
The Cannes is dark chocolate molded in the shape of a palm leaf. It is curvaceous with the imprint of a central vein across the top. The Cannes is distinctive in the box as it is just under an inch and a half long, three quarters inches long and five-eighths inches tall.
Finally, there is the Palazzo. The Palazzo is a simple rectangular confection designed to look like a super-stuffed envelope. Like the others, it has a soft center and it is like a bonbon where the chocolate is wrapped around the center. It is distinctive within this box by being an actual rectangle as opposed to a square and its curved top makes it less blockish than the Verona. The Palazzo is 1 1/2" long by 7/8" wide with a height of 5/8" so the center is really packed into this one!
The Mayan is a solid disc of 70% Cacao chocolate. Despite its thinness, it is very hard to bite into and it has a slight grain to it. The Mayan is dry on the tongue and is strongly cocoa flavored. It is not sweet, so it has a flavor almost like coffee grounds, dry and potent. There is nothing milky about this solid chocolate; it is a hit of intense Cacao and each bit reveals more of the delicious, concentrated flavor of chocolate without any distractions for the tongue. While not sweet, this is not an unpleasant confection, though it does not melt on the tongue or in any way invite the consumer to linger with it.
The Milan is a little softer as it is caramel coated in the hard, dark chocolate. Biting into the chocolate is very easy as the caramel is soft and gives easily. The Milan is a delicious combination of the 70% Cacao shell and a very sweet, honey-flavored caramel inside. Biting into the candy yielded a surprise for me; the combination of chocolate and caramel actually yielded a slightly fruity aftertaste, like maraschino cherry juice. That's the best analogy I have for it, but this taste is probably the most mainstream and accessible for those who are not familiar with the very dark chocolates like 70% Cacao chocolate. The sweetness of the caramel blends with the dark chocolate and the result is a taste that tastes more like milk chocolate or lesser dark chocolates than the potent chocolate the shell is.
The Verona is analogous to a peanut butter cup in some ways (like shape). The little block holds an almond creme center and while one might be able to get through it in only two bites, I recommend taking your time on it. Like the Milan, it is very soft to bite into because it is not solid, it has the almond cream center. The Milan is a very bland chocolate. The exterior is appropriately dry and strong with its 70% Cacao shell, but the inside is a tasteless butter-textured cream. While the almond cream is faintly sweet, it is more defined by the texture than by the taste and the moment the solid shell of the Milan's chocolate gives way to the center, the taste experience is over. The center sweetens the outer shell up slightly, but for the most part it simply makes a buttery coating for the tongue that tastes about as interesting as hand cream.
The Toulon might well be the gem of the collection. It is a 70% Cacao shell encasing a chocolate truffle center. It is smooth and creamy, but has a powerful dark chocolate flavor. As the tongue pushes through the dark chocolate truffle center, it is most analogous to a dark chocolate pudding as far as the taste, but a peanut butter for the texture. The shell is fairly thin, but it enhances the dry, rich chocolate flavor of the overall confection. My partner was especially enamored with this one and when we tried it together, she looked mournfully at the box, hoping there might be another in there. She would have had to beat me to it.
The Cannes palm leaf cracks open easily as the chocolate shell is thin around a lemon souffle center. Like the Verona, the Cannes is buttery and thick, but this actually tastes like lemon. The sour of the lemon works with the dry forthright flavor of the dark chocolate. The result is a confection that tastes like exactly what it is supposed to - chocolate and lemon cream - but is strangely unsatisfying. It is good, but the lemon flavor is more an actual lemony flavor than a traditional, sweeter, lemon gnache.
The Palazzo shell breaks easily, perhaps easier than any of the others, because the center is so soft. This is in a horserace for the best of the box as the center is another study in contrasts. Arguably the most flavorful of the box, the dry cacao exterior breaks away to reveal a soft pink center that is sweet like a standard chocolate's creamy center and slightly tart, like actual raspberries. The three flavors blend on the tongue in a delightful way that will satisfy anyone who likes candy more sophisticated than a pixie stick! This makes for a wonderfully satisfying dessert and I can only imagine (now that I have eaten mine) that it would taste amazing with a mug of a dark chocolate raspberry cocoa. The Palazzo became a delightful way to end the box and it is certainly enough to make one wish there were more of them in the box!
Well, this is a box of chocolates, so it is not like it is super-healthy for you. Any three pieces (half a box is the recommended serving size) contain 180 calories, one hundred of them are from fat. Honestly, I don't worry about such things (that drives my partner crazy), but a serving also contains about 35% of the RDA of saturated fat and insignificant amounts of cholesterol, sodium and protein. There are also miniscule amounts of calcium and iron. But honestly, who is eating this because they think it is good for them?!
On the plus side, the ingredients are largely good ones that may be easily pronounced! Russell Stover uses such quality ingredients as dark chocolate, white chocolate and whole milk. This explains the rich taste of the various candies. There are surprisingly few preservatives in the chocolates in the 70% Cacao assortment. These chocolates were made on machines that handled peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and wheat, so those with dietary concerns have been duly warned.
The gift box that the 70% Cacao Assortment comes in is adequate protection for the chocolates against crushing and limited amounts of heat (so it appears). In the box, there is a plastic wrapper that encases the plastic tray the candies rest in and so sealed I imagine the box remains fresh for some time. Honestly, though, given how few preservatives there are in these boxes, I suspect that they do not have the best shelf life of all time (my box, I noticed, did not have an expiration date).
Cleanup of the chocolates should be relatively simple as they do not melt easily and do not have pieces that crumble off. I clean up the box by eating the chocolates out of it! Should the chocolates melt, they will likely stain most fabrics and one would need to consult a fabric guide to see how best to clean fabrics stained by these.
The only concerns I have with so fully endorsing this box is that it is expensive and there are boxes of the same candies that have more pieces in them (twice as many!). The 2 7/8 oz. box is a great sampler and the price issue is negotiated by the fact that Russell Stover does coupons from time to time and the same way I got mine: going to one of the factory outlets may yield your chocolate cheaper! I was able to get the box at half price at the factory outlet and that is a fair price for such fine chocolates.
Anyone who loves super dark chocolate will love the 70% Cacao Assortment and would do well to pick one up!
For other fine chocolates, please read my reviews of:
Lindt Pistachio Nut Bar
Lindt Raspberry Lindor Truffles
Lindt Lindor Orange Chocolate Truffles
For other candy reviewed by me, please check out my index page!
© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.