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Chocolate and Cheese

Back when it was Chocolate Week, C. and I went to a chocolate and cheese pairing workstop at with Paul A. Young and his eponymous chocolate shop. I've eyed this even a time or two in the past when it's been offered, but it was always booked up before I stood a chance at it.

About a dozen of us gathered in the closed shop at 7 pm, with a champagne truffle to greet us in lieu of actual champagne which the chocolatier thought might distract our palate for the cheese. Once gathered, we proceeding downstairs to the kitchen; he mentioned that people rarely get to see it, but it was actually my second visit to it, the last time with haggisthesecond. On the central stainless steel and marble tabletops, a selection of large chunks and small wheels of cheese were gathered, airing for the previous three hours and ready to eat. Chocolates were lined up in small boxes. Equipped with a glass of water, plain crackers for palate-cleansing, a pen, and informative sheets of paper, we began.

First up was a Cerney goat cheese, aged 10 days, paired with Amedei 63% chocolate. The buttery chocolate, with hints of stone fruits became like cheesecake with the very creamy, dry, acidic cheese. Each flavor brought out the richness of the other. The chocolate outlasted the cheese in flavor in my mouth by a long way. The pairing of textures bothered me, partly because I wasn't yet habituated to putting chocolate and cheese together, and partly because very hard chocolate with very soft cheese really is a major texture contrast.

We then tried the same cheese, but matured for three months, paired with Valrhona 64% Madagascan Manjari. Where the first had been complementary flavors, this pairing was a match, both lively, acidic, and mouthwatering in its low-level piquancy. The cheese was prickly and a little salty, the chocolate rich in berries. Our guide recommended the two with apple crumble.

Next was Gubbeen smoked cow cheese with Ecuador pure Arriba 75% dark chocolate. It's a very odd chocolate: straightfoward, earthy, very little depth, and with a very limited range for its flavor. Only the front of my mouth was involved in tasting it. For all its darkness, it's not at all overwhelming, more restrained and dry. The cheese was lovely, lightly smoked, and filled in flavor at the back of my mouth for a complete tasting experience. The cheese, although not terribly strong in its own right, completely overwhelmed the chocolate. Both were firm, making for a good texture match.

Milleens is a washed rind whole milk cheese; we tried it with and without its rind. Without, it was gently fruity, tasting of fatty cream and smooth with a hint of grass to it. Match with Valrhona 40% java milk chocolate, it was sweet and well-rounded and lovely. My notes read: "Llike frolicking in a slightly muddy meadow". I really liked it.

With its rind, Milleens is more farmy and fragrant. Paired with a lively Valrhona 85% African dark chocolate, the flavors matched up to each other, robust and cooperative. As a pairing, it was much more savory than sweet.

Then, on to Lincolnshire Poacher with 68% Nyangbo Ghanian chocolate. If, in the limited and new world of chocolate and cheese pairings, there were such a thing as an instant classic, this would be it. The cheese is winey, and the liquory chocolate added depth to its pleasant flavors. Rich, but not overwhelming, the combo was redolent with umami, the taste of comfort.

I do love Colston Basset stilton. I can remember the first time I tried it vividly, at Square in Toronto with saffonjan and J. We shared a small cheese platter and it was rich and bright and wonderful. It's a fairly rich cheese, and was matched with a fairly rich chocolate, Valrhona 75% blended (i.e. not from one estate). The lightly fruity chocolate helped mute the liveliness of the dried grass notes in the cheese, but otherwise held its own. My notes read: "Mildly boisterous buddies who calm down a little in each others' company". It wasn't the most successful of pairings, but cooking transforms. These are the ingredients which are the basis for Paul A. Young's port and stilton truffle, whose loveliness was the basis for my interest in the workshop in the first place.

To finish, we were given two collective challenges. The first was a chocolate for which we needed to choose a cheese. Michel Cluizel 64% Papua New Guinea chocolate became like chocolate pudding, fun and fluffy, with the Cerney 10 day cheese. It was too similar in flavor range to be a good match to the aged Cerney; likewise, it competed with the Gubbeen smoked.

The second challenge was to match a mystery cheese (Vacherin d'or - now in season!) with a chocolate. It was a good excuse for trying lots more samples of different darknesses and varieties of chocolate. This allowed us to experiment more than the cheese-matching did, as we were more limited in available cheeses than we were in available chocolates. It showed more clearly than any other part of the evening how particular cheeses and chocolates are with each other, and how many really just don't match or complement each other at all. We mostly, but didn't all agree too, as all palates are slightly different from each other. My favorite match for it was the Amedei 70%, although I don't have notes or memory enough to tell you why.

But I can still clearly remember the fluffy, happy taste of Michel Cluizel 64% with Cerney 10 day, and the after-dinner port richness and elegance of Lincolnshire Poacher with 68% Nyangbo Ghanian chocolate.

So yes - chocolate and cheese. Worth matching carefully, and worth eating together.