Artisanal chocolates continue to fill a niche in the marketplace. Many have high cocoa content, making them almost bitter; others contain sea salt, chile peppers and even bacon.
Let's consider a less flashy product - the Hershey's milk-chocolate bar. Entrepreneur candymaker Milton Hershey introduced the first one to the nation in 1900, followed by that sweet icon, Kisses, in 1907 (www.hersheys.com).
Now the Hershey's company has rolled out a new product, Drops, in two flavors - Milk Chocolate and Cookies 'n' Creme. They're disc-shaped, sort of like giant M&Ms (made by the Mars candy company since 1941), but larger and without the colorful candy shell (www.mms.com/us/, and www.mars.com).
Samples of Drops arrived the other day and we passed them around the room. An 8-ounce pouch is $3.29, available at most supermarkets.
Before we lay out what our tasters had to say, here's a heads-up: Look for new Easter candies from Hershey's, including chocolate creme egg, mini malted milk robin eggs and Reese's peanut butter 'n' chocolate eggs.
Now these comments from our tasters:
"I liked them both, but I would buy the Cookies 'n' Creme. Very tasty."
"I prefer the Cookies 'n' Creme by far - the crunch, the sweet bite. Way better than the straight chocolate."
"Both kinds are so yummy. They have the same degree of satisfying taste and impact as regular-size candy bars, only they're more compact and convenient. I would buy them. I especially like the Cookies 'n' Creme because they're more rich."
"The Milk Chocolate is OK, but nothing special. Almost a little gummy, I think. The Cookies 'n' Creme are better - more texture and more creamy."
"Not normally a fan of white chocolate, which is too sweet, but I really like the crunchy quality of the Cookies 'n' Creme. The Milk Chocolate Drops are similar to other chocolate bites. Not different enough from a Kiss to be significant."
"I like the crunchies you get with the Cookies 'n' Creme. And I like that there's nothing to unwrap with the Drops. I don't have unwanted wads of silver foil left over, like when I eat Kisses."
"Kids would like these more than adults. They're very sweet, though the Milk Chocolate is less sweet than the Cookies 'n' Creme, so a bit more adult-friendly. And I like the disc shape."
"Both flavors are pretty good, but a little too sweet, and the outer coating on both is a little waxy. The white ones (Cookies 'n' Creme) taste like Oreo cookies. The brown ones (Milk Chocolate) are a Hershey's bar on the inside, but I would rather eat a regular Hershey's bar, which comes without the waxy coating."
"The Cookies 'n' Creme are nicely crunchy, but kind of bland otherwise. The predominant flavor is "sweet." The Milk Chocolate Drops taste like cocoa. Pretty good, but not exactly like a Hershey's bar or even a Kiss. Slightly classier alternative to M&Ms."
"Didn't care for the Cookies 'n' Creme, a bit too bland, just sweet. The Milk Chocolate Drops have a good chocolate flavor. I also liked that they don't stick to your hands."
"I vote for the Cookies 'n' Creme with the crunchy center. They have a combination thing going on in taste and texture."
"I like both flavors. Usually, I like plain chocolate treats, but I'm leaning toward the Cookies 'n' Creme - creamy, crunchy and sweet, but not cloyingly so."
"The Milk Chocolate Drops taste exceedingly rich, almost a chocolate overload. The Cookies 'n' Creme have a pleasant taste, not as heavy and with a shell crunch I did not get with the Milk Chocolate. That texture difference is significant for me. Given the choice, I'd get the Cookies 'n' Creme every time."
"Cookies 'n' Creme: Like a crumbled Oreo and a bar of white chocolate collided, in a good way. I enjoyed the flavor combination and the texture. Only trouble is, you may be inclined to eat too many. Milk Chocolate: Not much different than a classic Hershey's bar, but I liked the texture much more, if only because the shape of the candy allowed more of a bite than a square of the traditional bar."
"The Milk Chocolate was very chocolatey, but still tastes like a Hershey's bar. It definitely won't be confused with premium chocolate. Cookies 'n' Creme Drops have a nice bit of cookie crunch. This is the one you'd be more likely to keep munching on until the bag is gone."