Where does Steven Spielberg -- yes, the Steven Spielberg -- get his pecan-caramel chocolate fix? Look no further than the Golden Turtle Chocolate Factory in Lebanon.
"Mr. Steven Spielberg loves our Texas Tortoise," said Joy Kossoudji, co-owner of the Golden Turtle. "DreamWorks orders from us 10 or 15 times a year."
The Texas Tortoise consists of Texas pecan halves covered in creamy caramel and dressed in dark or milk chocolate. Kossoudji and her husband, Ted, hand-make all of their sweet treats, which include pralines, mint patties, creams, caramels, nut clusters and barks.
120 S. Broadway, US Route 42, Lebanon. 513-932-1990
Owner Shalini Latour makes whimsical chocolates using locally sourced ingredients, as well as sometimes unexpected flavors such as bacon salt, turmeric and ghost pepper. Pick from bars, brittles and beautifully hand-painted caramels and truffles that resemble honey bees and even Buddha faces.
For Valentine's Day, indulge in salted caramel lips or the dark passion chocolate bar, made with candied oranges in merlot syrup, spiced with cinnamon bark and accented with tangy hibiscus flowers. Also on the menu: dark, milk and white chocolate hearts with surprising flavors like caramel and bourbon smoked salt. Double the decadence and get Latour's edible chocolate boxes to fill with -- what else? -- more chocolate.
Owners Jack and Kathy Schneider spread love with handmade chocolates, candies and ice cream at this iconic spot in Bellevue. Schneider, who learned the trade from his father, got his start as an 8-year-old, popping open Easter egg cartons. Now in his sixties, Schneider and his wife still make candy the old-fashioned way using family recipes. Schneider's offers a wide assortment of chocolates, fudges and caramels, but the opera creams are the star. They are loaded with creamy centers and coated in dark or milk chocolate. For Valentine's Day, pick from an assortment of chocolates in decorative heart-shaped boxes, including mini lips and hearts.
Dayton-based Esther Price now has three stores in Greater Cincinnati. The newest location is in West Chester, tucked away off Princeton-Glendale Road near Union Center Boulevard. The store has an impressive lineup of chocolates and candies, including cherry cordials, caramel pecans, opera creams, Buckeyes and chocolate roses. Also popular -- and a tad salty -- are chocolate-covered potato chips and sea-salt caramels. Store manager Tanya Myers said the store also has a selection of stuffed animals and pre-packed baskets of sweet treats. Decorative heart-shaped boxes of assorted chocolates -- pre-packed or customized -- are available for Valentine's Day, too.
8621 North Pavillion Drive, West Chester. 513-860-0907
This small-batch chocolate company creates award-winning chocolate bars with cacao beans from countries such as Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Belize. The beans are sorted, roasted and taken through a series of steps to make an assortment of dark, milk and white chocolate bars. Standouts include Prohibition Dark Milk Chocolate with Bourbon and Smoked Sea Salt, Espresso Dark Chocolate and Dark Milk Chocolate with Cocoa Nibs. The Raspberry White Chocolate and Lemon Lavender White Chocolate offer a lighter alternative.
For Valentine's Day, get a three-bar gift box of single-origin or flavored chocolate bars or the chocolate lover's basket, and make your sweetheart swoon.
Bambi Merz's trips to the candy store to seek relief from her mom's hospice care ultimately became the reason why she now owns Tickled Sweet.
"When end-of-life care got too much, I went to the candy store," she said. "I ended up buying the business."
The hand-made chocolates span a wide assortment of chocolate pieces and bars. Popular products include almond toffee, sea-salt caramels, fudge, Buckeyes and dipped cookies, where Merz dips Donna's Gourmet Cookies in an assortment of dark, milk and white chocolate. The fudge flavors range from birthday cake to mango raspberry splash, and tasting fudge samples makes a fun experience.
Load up on hand-made brownies, Buckeyes and truffles at this chocolate, confectionary and bakery heaven. Haute Chocolate owner Lisa Cooper Holmes makes freestyle chocolate products by taking classic chocolate recipes and putting a creative spin on them. For Valentine's Day, pick from Lisa's Lil' Brownie of Love, a brownie baked in the shape of a heart, or the seasonal sampler, packed with favorites such as chocolate-dipped Oreo cookies, chocolate-dipped pretzels and Buckeyes. Instead of the traditional chocolate dip, the Buckeyes at Haute Chocolate are covered in infused semi-sweet chocolate chip fondant.
What started as a single store in Los Angeles in 1921 has grown into more than 200 locations nationwide. See's Candies offers a wide range of candies, including peanut brittle, chocolate walnut fudge, hand-dipped bonbons and maple walnut creams. Debbie Rivest, the district sales manager, said top sellers include "toffee-ettes," little nuggets of butter toffee and roasted almonds smothered in See's milk chocolate and rolled in crunchy almond bits. There are plenty of Cupid-approved candies for Valentine's Day, including chocolate hearts, marshmallow hearts and assorted chocolates lovingly packed in heart-shaped boxes.
7875 Montgomery Road, Kenwood. Inside Kenwood Towne Centre. 513-793-5678
Father and son Oley and Kevin Snowden run a delightful candy store in the heart of downtown Lebanon. The candy store is a treasure trove of roughly 450 different types of candy, ranging from retro sweets to hard-to-find items, along with 75 different bulk options of Jelly Belly beans. The wall of Jelly Belly beans offers fun flavors ranging from "very cherry" to "buttered popcorn" to "draft beer." If you're looking for something else to chew on, there's a bank of gummi bears for the picking.
The extensive chocolate case is filled with goodies such as sea salt caramel chocolate (dark and milk chocolate), chocolate-covered pretzels and even chocolate-covered potato chips.
38 E. Mulberry St., Lebanon. 513-889-9720
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.