Cheese and Chocolate? Absolutely!
By Jeffree Itrich
February is undoubtedly chocolate month, due to a certain romantic holiday. According to research conducted by Nielsen, in the U.S. alone, more than 58 million pounds of chocolate candy is sold during Valentine's week. That's $345 million in sales in just one week and comprises of just over five percent of chocolate candy's sales for the year. But this is a cheese club. Is it possible to pair cheese with chocolate? You betcha! Combining cheese and chocolate creates a unexpected, yet harmonious pairing. Plus you get some pretty impressive health benefits when you combine the two.
Chocolate’s essential ingredient, cacao, is loaded with antioxidant flavonoids and theobromine. A Swedish study that followed more than 31,000 women determined that women who eat one or two servings of dark chocolate each week cut their heart failure risk by one third. A study by Swiss researchers showed that eating dark chocolate reduced stress levels.
Cheese also packs a nice nutritional punch. It’s a fine way of getting your protein as well as a many essential vitamins and minerals, with the all-important calcium topping the list. Can you say “strong bones’? A serving of cheese also contains phosphorus, zinc, Vitamin A, and Vitamin B12.
Okay, onto planning your pairings. Consider the following:
As you strategize your tasting remember that there are no standard rules when it comes to pairing. Just experiment and see if you discover a new pairing that suits your palate. The key is to keep it simple. Both cheese and chocolate are super-rich foods and a little goes a long way. If your budget can afford it choose quality over quantity and limit yourself to three to five pairings.
Rich, hearty, nutty, chocolates and cheese share many of the same qualities, creating an unexpected flavorful pairing. For example, a spicy dark chocolate pairs well with an aged goat cheese. Who knew, right? To help you get started here are some pairing guidelines and suggestions. In general, light cheeses complement light flavors, while bold cheeses balance livelier flavors.
- Soft ripened goat, sheep or cow’s milk cheeses that tend toward pungency, acidity and assertive flavors marry well with both dark and milk chocolate.
- Aged cheese that is nutty yet less sharp pairs nicely with chocolates that have fillings or ingredients such as almonds, honey and maple.
- Blue cheese, with its tangy flavor will heighten the undercurrent of a robust dark chocolate.
- Truffles and caramels with their forward dairy and butter notes, are an easy choice to combine with any variety of cheese, most notably a decadent milk chocolate.
- Dark, less-sweet chocolates go best with soft cheeses such as cream cheese, teleme and ricotta. Or you can pair a complex dark chocolate with a complex cheese that will stand up to the intense cocoa.
- Milk chocolate and those containing dried fruit and nuts goes best with milky cheeses such as brie, triple-creams, washed rind and creamy blues.
- Spicy chocolates that contain chiles marry well with sharp cheeses that are not overly salty, for example, extra-sharp cheddar.
- Cheese with higher butterfat pairs nicely with chocolate that contains nuts.
- Washed rind cheeses complement fruity chocolates
Just as you aim to purchase high quality cheese, so you should seek out artisan chocolates, preferably from a local chocolatier rather than a grocery or drug store. Chocolate can go stale just like any comestible; seek out freshly made chocolates.
A few pairing suggestions:
If you’re new to this type of pairing, definitely keep it simple:
– Aged Gouda with dark chocolate
– Aged Cheddar with a tart apple such as Granny Smith and a decadent dark chocolate
– Triple Crème Brie drizzled with melted dark chocolate and fresh strawberries
Want to step it up a notch?
– Aged Parmesan and dark chocolate with a Oat Stout Beer
– Gruyere or another robust Alpine cheese with toasted cashews and a rich milk chocolate
Want to try a really full-bodied pairing?
– Blue cheese, intense dark chocolate truffles and port wine or an aged sherry.
– Mixed milk Cheese (cow, sheep and goat milk) with white chocolate and a chutney such as cranberry or cherry.
The Art of the Tasting
Be sure that both your cheese and chocolates are at room temperature before starting. A basic rule of thumb: remove the cheeses from the refrigerator at least 20-35 minutes before starting the tasting to amplify flavors and aromas. If you refrigerated your chocolates, remove them from the fridge at least an hour ahead of time, if not longer.
To get started, first smell both the chocolate and the cheese before tasting. Generally tasting the cheese first works better than the reverse.
Take a small bite of cheese followed by a small bite of chocolate, chew a bit, and then take another small bite of cheese. See how the flavors complement each other.