Lucky me, I was recently contacted by the Eric Reid, founder of SPAGnVOLA (pronounced Spangvola; a reference to Hispaniola, the island today known as the Dominican Republic and Haiti), a small chocolate company based in Gaithersburg, MD. Could he send me some chocolates to taste and perhaps review? I am not one to turn down chocolate, but wanted to be fair so first did a bit of research on SPAGnVOLA. Founded in 2009, SPAGnVOLA is committed to producing the finest, single-source chocolate from start to finish. All cacao beans used in creating the chocolates are grown on Reid's farm in the Dominican Republic -without the use of pesticides!- and are hand-harvested, fermented and dried there. Then, the best are sent on to the factory in Gaithersburg where head chocolatier, Crisoire Reid, crafts them into bars, truffles and boxed chocolate confections.
I was impressed to find that SPAGnVOLA was awarded 2013 Small Business of the Year by the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development as well as a Business Innovation Award by the Haiti Renewal Alliance for promoting business development and commerce in the Caribbean.
After learning all this, I wrote Reid back and enthusiastically said, "Yes, you can definitely send me chocolates."
This bounty arrived just a few days later, and we jumped right in to the boxed chocolates.
Before I proceed, let me issue two important disclaimers: 1) Other than receiving the generous package of chocolates for tasting purposes, I am not being compensated for this post; and 2) I'm actually not a fan of boxed and flavored concoctions. I can get down with a box of See's Nuts and Chews because they are so simple and straight, but in general, chocolate bars are what get me excited because baking with good chocolate is both a joy and an harbinger of good desserts to come. My husband, children and several close friends, on the other hand, are ENORMOUS fans of boxed chocolates, so I figured we'd have quite the panel to thoroughly judge SPAGnVOLA's offerings.
As you can see, the chocolates are beautifully crafted. I would suggest removing or better wrapping the powdered ones because, as you can see in above photo, it spreads to and coats other chocolates which detracts from the visual "wow" when opening the box.
The outer chocolate shell of each treat is wonderfully thin; it's firm yet yields with an appealing crackle-feeling with the softest bite. Though the SPAGnVOLA web site shows that a cheat sheet is included in each box, neither of mine had one. And while the absence of such a guide made the trial a bit more objective, I found it hard to discern the flavors of the fillings. Some of the candies had clues on top -crystallized ginger, sea salt- or were colored to, presumably, reflect the flavor, but I believe the actual inside fillings should pack a greater punch so that you don't really need any assistance.
Everyone who participated in my taste tests found these chocolates wonderful. They are light years ahead of Godiva in terms of chocolate quality and nuance of taste. I didn't become a boxed chocolate convert but did appreciate the attention to detail and the aesthetics. Judging by the pace at which these were devoured, I'd say I'm the minority.
This weekend I plan to subject one of the semi-sweet bars to the ultimate test: making Julia Child's Reine de Saba which is nothing if not an homage to chocolate. I'll follow back up with a review there, but in the meantime, investigate SPAGnVOLA. A box of their chocolates would make a hell of a gift for any bonbon lover you know!
~While I really like the history and meaning behind the company name, SPAGnVOLA is not a word that rolls easily off your tongue or pen. Food for thought though probably too late now. ~The gold trays are a bit flimsy, so just use caution as you sort through the treats.