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Heart's Delights 

What would Valentine's Day be without Champagne and chocolate?

Voluptuous pillows of naughty pleasure, plump chocolate truffles are the candy case's X-rated cuties. And with physical benefits of chocolate consumption allegedly the same as a brisk horizontal hula, it's no wonder that these little hotties are emblematic of Valentine's Day passions.

Luckily for lovers, top-quality truffles are easy to come by in our stretch of the Rust Belt, where a ribbon of chocolate manufacturers -- both large and small -- stretches from Pittsburgh to Lakewood and beyond. Here's the skinny on four of our favorites.

Weighing in at about an ounce apiece, the towering truffles from Betsy Ann Chocolates are ample enough to slice and savor. Handmade in a Pittsburgh suburb, the chocolates come in classic flavors such as Raspberry Chambord and Double Dark Chocolate, as well as Pecan Caramel, Cookies & Cream, and Chocolate Chunk. Spectacularly rich, yet never cloying, the truffles run from $28 to $30 per pound. The company's shop at 13204 Shaker Square (216-283-8660) is the only one in Ohio.

Almost as big and buttery are the superlative, flavor-intense truffles from local candy maker Séshart Chocolatier, whose sole retail outlet is in Ohio City's Market 25 (1948 West 25th Street, 216-685-9800). Robed in a thick layer of creamy milk or dark chocolate, the two dozen or so varieties include cinnamon, mocha, framboise, and blackberry, all priced at $22.50 a pound.

Champagne is our favorite flavor from Sweet Designs (in Lakewood at 16400 Madison Avenue, 216-226-4888; in Medina at 140 West Washington Street, 330-721-4548). The bite-sized, sugar-dusted confection has a bright fruitiness that reminds us of gourmet jellybeans, but a creamy texture that says "truffle" through and through. The cost is $18.95 per pound.

Finally, Mitchell's Fine Candies in Cleveland Heights (2285 Lee Road, 216-932-3200) reliably rocks our socks with its robust mocha-flavored truffles and its scallop-shell-shaped Grand Marnier truffles. These petite sweets -- barely a mouthful -- check in at $19.95 a pound.

To provide a final taste of luxe, nothing beats a bottle of bubbly. Wine merchant Joan Welsh, proprietor of Hudson Wine and Spirits (330-650-1800), says the Italian sparkler Rotari goes particularly well with truffles, and at only $14.99 a bottle, the soft, almost floral wine is a good value to boot. On the other hand, when money is no object, Welsh recommends that lovers splurge on a bottle of rich, yeasty Salon Champagne, vintage 1985. Price tag? $190.

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