Say what you will about love, romance, and passion come February 14th. Some say it’s sweet to have an excuse to spoil that special someone. Others cry “sickly” and wonder how it can be that Valentine’s Day, a holiday that exists solely to make people feel good, leaves so many lonely hearts feeling, well, kind of bad.

You may be intensely amorous à la Pepe Le Pew or take a more cynical view of Cupid’s holiday, but, just for the moment, let’s cast aside the politics of love. Surely, we can all agree—on Valentine’s Day, chocolate is what really matters.

It was the resourceful English confectioner Richard Cadbury who in the 1860s was the first to package chocolate into boxes. In keeping with the Victorian penchant for lavish ornamentation, his were adorned with hand painted images of his daughter and her pet kitten. A few years later Cadbury went on to design the first heart-shaped box, an innovation which ultimately led to Valentine’s products as we tend to know them today—red, velvety, kitschy.

We Americans love a box of heart-shaped chocolates (with sales projected to exceed 36 million this year), and, in recent years, our growing demand for high-end confections has spurred the development of a new generation of Valentine’s Day sweets. Today’s artisan chocolatiers strike a balance between style and tradition. While preserving the charms of cute heart shapes and splashes of red, they craft design-forward collections that satisfy our yen for eye candy and good taste. —Raina Bien


Here’s a sampling of our Valentine’s Day favorites for 2007:
* B.T. McElrath, Love Notes, $10. Conversation hearts in truffle form


* Chocolat Moderne, Amarena Mon Amour, $75. Italian cherries in bonbons painted ruby red


* L.A. Burdick,Wood Heart Set, $49. Simple, clean wooden box contains chocolates far more complex


* Pierre Marcolini, Round Heart Box, $40. Shinier than a new Ferrari?


* Recchiuti, Gilded Collection, $10. This petite selection is made grand with gold leaf.


* Richart, Intense Love, $74.50. Sharp graphics meet balanced flavors