Cheese and chocolate pairings don’t always work. But when they do, the combination can be magical.
I will admit that I haven’t always been a fan of putting cheese and chocolate together (in fact, I have admitted it before). But here I am, a person who co-teaches cheese and chocolate pairing classes at Theo Chocolate in Seattle, so something had to happen to turn me around.
Like any other food pairing, the key to success is in trial and error—and in using the correct principles for the pair. Since Valentine’s Day is near (like, really, really near), here are three ways to pair cheese and chocolate that will impress your Valentine or Galentine or Dudentine, or whoever it is with whom you’re sharing the pairing.
- Skip the milk
If you are going to pair straight chocolate with cheese, you will want to avoid milk chocolate. Look for options that are in the realm of “70 percent dark” or thereabouts. The reason for this is that you want to taste the flavor of the cacao bean, which is already being mixed with sugar, so the addition of milk to the chocolate plus the cheese will drown out that flavor.
This is not unlike choosing an unflavored cheese over a flavored cheese, or picking a raw-milk cheese over a pasteurized one.
Successful pairings with a plain, 70-percent dark chocolate might include an American-style Cheddar, a sweeter Alpine-style cheese, or a cream-forward blue.
The specifics will depend on what chocolate and what cheese you have access to, of course. I’m thinking of Beecher’s Flagship for the Cheddar, Herve Mons’ Emmental Francais for the Alpine, and Cascadia Creamery’s Glacier Blue for the blue.
The key here is that the perceived bitterness of the chocolate bar will balance with an inherent sweetness in the cheese. That sweet, milky flavor will meld with the dark chocolate in a way that is akin to eating milk chocolate—which most Americans tend to prefer over dark chocolate—but is more intense and has a lot more going on.
Also, cream-forward blues like Glacier Blue, Colston Bassett Stilton, and Cambozola will pair well because of their lactic flavors; a spicier blue cheese is more likely to fight against the chocolate, or even overpower it.
- Balance spicy with fruity
When you get into added flavorings, one of the more interesting ways of pairing a cheese with a chocolate is to balance them out with spicy and fruity notes.
For example, if you have a spiced cheese such as Beecher’s No Woman (flavored with jerk seasoning), Appel Farms’ Nokkelost (spiced with cumin, caraway, and cloves), or something with earthy or punchy flavors, you could try pairing that cheese with a chocolate that has been flavored with fruit essence, such as orange, lemon, or raspberry. You don’t necessarily want that to be an overly sweet fruitiness, just an additional note that will build the complexity of your pairing into a combination of flavors rather than a battleground of them.
Conversely, you can take a spicy chocolate—either one that has chilies in it or a plain one that has an inherent zestiness to it—and pair it with a fruit-forward cheese.
Think bitter-dark chocolate with your cranberry Wensleydale, or a chili-added dark bar with that mango Stilton everyone is always trying to find.
- Choose cream for confections
This might seem counter to the principle of pairing a dark chocolate bar with cheese, but if you are going to do a pairing with sweeter chocolate confections—think chocolate truffles—then you will want to bring on the cream bombs.
Like any chocolate-and-cheese pairing, it works best with dark chocolate—but this is the exception where a milk chocolate confection might also rock your cheese’s socks. Whether the confection is filled with ganache, liqueur, cream, or something textural like cacao nibs or butter crunch, the best partner for this type of pairing is going to be the ooey-gooey double- or triple-cream soft-ripened (i.e., brie-style) cheese.
Vermont Creamery’s Bijou goes well with Theo Chocolate’s Ghost Chili Caramels—and every chocolate confection I’ve tried it with, frankly. Heck, Humboldt Fog goes well with chocolate-coated almonds. You can’t go wrong with a soft-ripened goat cheese in this context.
But if you’re not into pairing the goaties with your Valentine truffles, you can swing for any of the supple varieties of triple-cream: Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam, Brillat Savarin, or the old standby Dèlice de Bourgogne. Double creams work well, too (e.g., Brie de Nangis, Fromage d’Affinois, etc.), as do domestic varieties of Camembert like those by Mt. Townsend Creamery (Cirrus) and Acme Farms Cheese. (American camemberts tend to be milder and milkier in flavor than traditional French Camembert—even compared to the pasteurized versions imported to the US.)
Finally, there’s the technique. Just how do you pair chocolate and cheese?
Obviously you want everything to be at room temperature—both the chocolate and the cheese. You might lay everything out on a cheeseboard, with pre-cut portions, or you can just set everything on the table and let each person decide how much to break or cut off.
I believe you should taste the cheese and the chocolate separately before you try them together. You should smell both the chocolate and the cheese before tasting them, noting what aromas each partner produces.
In general, you want to let chocolate sit on your tongue, and you want to taste cheese by allowing it to coat your tongue. For the cheese, I recommend first tasting the paste (the interior), then tasting a bit of the rind, before tasting the paste and the rind together. Once you’ve done that, you can decide if you want to keep tasting the cheese with the rind on, or if you want to remove it before you proceed.
If you are pairing your cheese with a chocolate bar, you will want to let the chocolate sit on your tongue and melt down a little bit—no chomping it down yet!—before adding a bit of the cheese into your mouth to conmingle them.
If you are pairing cheese with chocolate confections, you can either take a bite of the truffle and let it sit on your tongue before adding in cheese, you can try making a little cheese-and-chocolate sandwich to get both in one bite—or you can even wrap a more pliable cheese around the chocolate.
The most important thing is that everyone enjoys themselves, that you appreciate the flavors of the food, and that you have great company—whether it be a loved one, a good friend (or a group of them), or someone with whom you just enjoy eating tasty food.
Happy Valentine’s Day!