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Serious Cheese: Pairing Chocolate and Cheese for Valentine's Day
"Chocolate and cheese are both super-rich foods, and a little goes a long way. Savor every bite and go for quality over quantity."
Ever since a college friend baked a bar of fine Swiss dark chocolate between two halves of a wheel of Brie, I've been intrigued and a little obsessed with the idea of pairing chocolate and cheese. It's tougher to get right than, say, pairing fruit and cheese, and sometimes it's downright nasty, but when you do get a good match, it can be truly sublime. And it also happens to be a really nice way to end a special Valentine's Day meal with two of the greatest foods humans ever created.
I started with a box of 12 assorted handmade chocolates from Nunu Chocolates in Brooklyn, New York. They're famous for their hand-dipped salted caramels and ganaches, but lately they've begun branching out into more experimental ganaches like absinthe, beer, bacon, and, yes, blue cheese. Nunu uses "a single origin cocoa bean derived from a Trintario and Criollo hybrid that we get from a family-run farm in Eastern Colombia."
I knew I wanted to get four different cheeses to try with the chocolate, but I still spent a while browsing the selection at my nearby cheesemonger. I ended up with the following selection, (clockwise from the lower left in the picture at the top):
- Vermont Butter & Cheese's Bijou, a cute little button of an aged goat cheese, soft, subtle, not too musky
- Pierre Robert, the gold standard of Valentine's Day cheeses, a triple cream bloomy-rind cheese that goes great with champagne and strawberries
- Mahón Reserva, the aged version of Menorca's paprika-rinded sheep cheese, even nuttier and more caramelly than the original
- Valdéon, a Spanish cow's milk blue from Léon
This was my first attempt at an "official" chocolate and cheese pairing, and there were some very interesting findings. First, it is very difficult to take the right amount of cheese in each bite. Most times either the cheese was overwhelmed by the chocolate or vice versa. Obviously you needs less of the two stronger cheeses (Mahón and Valdéon), but it was still tough to gauge.
Second, keep the tasting simple. My wife and I couldn't get through all 12 chocolates. Chocolate and cheese are both super-rich foods, and a little goes a very long way. Savor every bite and go for quality over quantity. Lastly, have a fair amount of crusty bread and water on hand. With such strong flavors, you really will need the two to cleanse your palate as you move from chocolate to chocolate and cheese to cheese.
So what's the verdict you ask? Well, there were some real winners, and some real losers. The best pairings overall were with the Pierre Robert, whose silky creaminess went well with most of the chocolates. The raspberry ganache was a particularly well-matched mate, as was the prosecco ganache. The salt caramels didn't go as well, probably because the nuttiness clashed a bit with the creaminess of the cheese.
The caramels went great, however, with the Mahón and Valdéon. Something about the strong flavors of those two balanced nicely with the nuttiness of the caramel. The Mahón pairing was on the salty side, but the Valdéon, which is a fairly sweet blue, balanced the saltiness of the chocolate perfectly.
Nunu has been experimenting with a new ganache lately, which I was lucky enough to get a preview of Absinthe. At first I was wary of pairing this one with cheese, simply because Absinthe has such a distinctive, herby flavor. But my preconceptions were utterly shattered. The anise notes of this chocolate blended perfectly with the muskiness of the Bijou goat cheese, as well as the strong blue flavor in the Valdéon. These were some of my favorite pairings of all.
So, this Valentine's Day, why not close out the meal with a nice selection of fine chocolates and cheeses? Just remember, keep it simple.
Nunu Chocolates are available at the flagship store in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, at select specialty food stores across the country, and by mail-order from the website.