Whenever I travel to other cities I make a point of checking out chocolatiers and specialty stores for stuff unavailable near me, but I'm not sure how I would transport it back. I've been throwing bars in my luggage, which, of course, isn't the best for their stability, particularly if they're filled. Any suggestions?
If you keep you chocolate in your checked luggage, it will be quite cold when you get it home, due to the unheated baggage area in the bottom of the plane.
Mr. Tastebud, my chocolate-obsessed husband, travels with a soft-sided insulated cooler that he uses to bring chocolate home. His official chocolate cooler is a Toronto Maple Leafs insulated bag, which he bought at a yard sale in Ontario just so he could cart back all the Coffee Crisps and Aero Bars that I had requested.
The cooler squishes into a small space on the trip over. For the trip back, he lines the sides with thin cardboard or newspaper, and carefully places the chocolate (usually truffles, pralines, and liqueur-filled chocolate bars). He usually adds a cold box of juice or can of soda, just to keep the chocolate cool. But, as I say, he's obsessed.
And this cooler goes in his carry-on bag, never in the checked luggage. Given that we dropped almost $200 on chocolate the last time we were in Paris (most of this was for gifts), I can't argue with his priorities. Besides, this means we can have treats on the flight back!
Me, I've been known to put chocolate in ziploc bags, braced with whatever's handy (magazines, bubble wrap, cardboard), and toss it in my suitcase. But I don't tell Mr. Tastebud.
I've been known to carry a separate rolling bag for chocolates (particularly when it's so easy to get 2kg slabs of dark chocolate and have access to Cafe Tasse's entire line in Brussels), but it was just so hard to travel with it as a student on a budget-- with all the walking under the summer sun instead of taking ACed cabs!
By the by, what chocolates do you normally bring back from Paris? My favorite is Jean-Paul Hevin, which I would've LOVED to bring back in larger quantities. A good friend of mine swears by this method-- she just eats all her Richart there and orders more in the States.
We try to get to a few "new" (to us) chocolate shops each time we go. Last time (3 years ago), I even made a map of all the chocolate shops so we could streamline our tourism and chocolate-buying activities. So we usually bring back treats from many places.
My two favorites that I always bring back - unless I eat them all while I'm there - are Christian Constant for the extremely bittersweet tea- and flower-infused chocolates, and La Maison du Chocolate for the softer-and-gentler chocolates (I adore all the citrus-flavored pralines).
On the non-chocolate front, I always buy Christian Constant's fruits confits (aka glacee fruit / candied fruit), which is the most wonderful stuff I've ever had. I've never found anything like it online, so I buy tons. Luckily, it's easier to transport than chocolate.
Next time I go, I plan to check out places like Gerard Mulot, Michel Chaudin, and Pierre Marcolini (for the Belgian touch).
When I lived in Paris, my neighborhood chocolate maker would punctuate the end of every one of my purchases with the following scold, fingers were wagged:
DO NOT PUT IT IN THE REFRIGERATOR!
Chocolate shouldn't be allowed to get too cold.
DO NOT check chocolate in your luggage when the outside temperature goes above 50 degrees F!!! Technically, chocolate will go out of temper just above 90 degrees F, but the temperature inside of the cargo hold may be 30-40 degrees hotter than the outside temp when the plane is sitting on the runway. Yes, it will be very cold when you are in flight, but if the plane has to sit at the gate, or on a luggage trolley in the sun, your bon bons will be lost! I wouldn't ever check chocolate, because during the winter the bag may be held at the ticket counter where employees may have little heaters down by their feet. If you are spending $50+ per pound of chocolate (as many premium chocolates cost), then why would you let it leave your side?
When I pack chocolate to travel, I put it in a ziploc bag, wrap the bag in a kitchen towel, then put it in a cooler with very cold (but not frozen) gel packs. It will keep the chocolate in the "safe zone" for about 8 hours if I keep it with me.