Looking for a tasty experience while you’re cooped up at home? Why not try a chocolate pairing? It’s a great way to enjoy yourself and support small businesses at the same time and it makes a great virtual happy hour.
If you don’t know where to begin with your chocolate pairing I’m here to provide you with starting points, but I encourage you to branch out and try things that speak to you. Chocolate pairings are a wonderful way to enjoy two foods together and to spark fun conversation with your tasting buddies.
What are my favorite pairings with chocolate? In order of preference,
- Cheese and chocolate
- Tea and chocolate
- Bourbon, whiskey, Scotch and chocolate
- Sweet or fortified wines and chocolate
Some of my choices may be surprising, but I’m going to bet that my rank order is what’s most surprising. Right now you may be asking yourself, “Cheese and chocolate?”. Yes, cheese and chocolate. Truly a duo made in heaven. Or it can be. Like any pairing, not all cheeses go with all chocolates. You have to do the hard work to find the pairings that sing. But that hard work is going to be some of the most fun, and certainly the most tasty, work you’ve done to date.
I’ve had the pleasure of creating pairings with a number of well-known cheese, tea, spirits and wine experts. At the end of this post I’ve provided links to past blog posts about specific pairings. I recommend watching the cheese & chocolate tasting video I did with Dessert Geek, Jess Tupper, and the Mobile Monger, Janee’ Moha as a starting point.
Below are guidelines for putting together a successful pairing for whatever accompaniment you’ve chosen to go with your chocolate.
- Put a stake in the ground – When pairing chocolate with another food or beverage you have so many choices. Where do you start? Put a stake in the ground by choosing one item first. I like to choose my chocolate first, since I know it well.
- Choose a range of flavors/profiles – Whatever kind of chocolate you like (dark, milk, white), choose a range of flavor profiles and types. If you’re a dark chocolate lover, I recommend at least one milk chocolate in your mix. Dark chocolate many not be a good fit for every type of pairing. I’ve found, for example, that milk chocolate often pairs well with blue cheeses.
- Taste the chocolate – Before you begin pairing, taste the chocolate and write down the flavors you notice for each chocolate. Only then should you start looking for pairings that might work. While you can’t visit a store during quarantine, there are plenty of online options for purchasing from small businesses who would really appreciate your support right now. I’m betting an email to them describing the flavor profiles of your chocolate and asking them for recommendations from their inventory would be welcome outreach. I’ve included links, below, to resources for purchasing cheese, tea, spirits and wine online.
- Taste individually – Taste the cheese/tea/spirits/wine on their own before tasting them with the chocolate. Then taste the chocolates on their own. Use all of your senses to evaluate each of the delicacies you’re tasting, letting all of them linger in your mouth. As my mother says to every customer who tastes chocolate at Chocolopolis, “Don’t chew!”.
- Pair them – Based on your initial tasting, decide which combinations might work well together and give them a try. If you’re tasting cheese, try the cheese first, and only after you’ve finished the piece of cheese, put a piece of chocolate in your mouth and let it melt. Why cheese first? The advice I got from cheese expert Janet Fletcher is to start with savory and end with sweet, just like you would with dinner and dessert. Evaluate your pairings. Does the pairing make the chocolate and cheese/tea/spirit/wine taste even better? Or do they not go together at all?
- Mix it up – Now comes the really fun part. Mix it up. Try different chocolates and cheese/tea/spirits/wine combinations and see if you find other pairings that sing.
- Discuss – When you’ve finished tasting, discuss your pairings with the group. What worked well together? Do you agree or disagree on what worked? What were each person’s favorite combinations? How would you conduct the tasting differently next time?
I’ve provided tips and resources, below, for putting together a pairing, including a list of experts selling online. This is a fantastic way to support small businesses at a time when they really need you. Please order online directly from the makers when possible.