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Interview: February is the month for Aphrodisiacs (Cheese and Chocolate, please)


Whether you spend this Valentine's Day with a lover, or you spend the day by yourself or with friends, the entire month of February gives us a real excuse to dive into the world of cheese and chocolate pairings.  I recently had the delight to explore the art of paring chocolate even further with the help of New York chocolatière, Milène Jardine.  She makes a variety of flavored truffles by hand, and her approach is daring and delicious: savory, herbaceous, boozy, fruity, and spicey infusions take chocolate ganache one step further.  They also open up the door to pair with a wide variety of cheeses.

There are already some rules of thumb for how to pair chocolate and cheese, but I was able to develop some interesting and unique pairings that best matched her truffles.  The best news is that both chocolate and cheese contain ingredients which inherently uplift a person's mood.  Tryptophan and phenylethylamine can be found in chocolate, and tyrosine can be found in cheese. You can read more about the qualities and chemistry of each food in my pairing guide here.

I asked Milène to go into detail about her vision as a chocolatièr. I find there are always parallels within specialty food: the passion that fuels a small food business is about quality, value, and technique.  It is a mode of artisan self-expression that Milène outlines in more detail below. 

Milène Jardine is offering an exclusive package of chocolate with some additional surprise flavors to all Cheese Grotto owners.  The promo code for this curated offering will be sent via email.

  1. What experience in chocolate inspired you to start a business?

I started creating desserts as early as I could pick up a cookbook and hand mix sugar into butter. As a child with a Parisian mother, I was fortunate to be able to visit France at an early age and fell in love with the boutique chocolatiers and patisseries. I still remembers the excitement from my first visit to Fauchon on Place de Madeleine. The vast assortment of elegant and colorful confections were visually stunning, reminding me of a fairytale. Every detail from the store signage, facade and packaging repeated the stylized pink and black branding that make Fauchon iconic. I evolved my hobby into a small business 11 years ago by making chocolate favors, platters, and centerpieces for parties. During this time, I was also building my business acumen with a fast growing career at Macy’s Private Label Fashion Headquarters. After a consolidation that cut my corporate career short in 2016, I courageously decided to return to my childhood passion for creating sweets and focus my energy on building my own chocolate brand. Knowing the door I had walked through everyday for the past 12 years was closed, I knew I wanted to pursue what makes me happy: chocolate. 


2. How do you taste chocolate and bring out the sweet, fruity, savory, nutty, etc characteristics through your flavorings and infusions?  Do you have a recommended chart/guide for tasting chocolate? For example, here's a comte cheese aroma wheel:


I prefer dark chocolate and chose an understandable and balanced blend that works well for moulding confections and complements the flavored ganache interior. I believe in the natural beauty of chocolate and do not add any preservatives or artificial sweeteners. The confections are made with Valhrona chocolate, fresh cream, butter and natural herbs/spices. The “Live by Love” assortment covers diverse flavor profiles to satisfy any mood. Tradition is inspired by a Harvey Wallbanger which gives a strong citrus tone from the fresh orange. Sanctuary is made with ginger, turmeric, and black pepper resulting in a spicy taste. Goddess creates floral and earthy notes from the hibiscus and fresh mint infusion. Puriste is a very rich, saturated truffle flavored with dark chocolate and cocoa powder. Serenity meets your classic sweet and savory craving by blending whiskey and sea salt.


3. How do you source your chocolate flavors?  


Each flavor is inspired by countries I’ve visited throughout the world and tells a story about the journey. When traveling, I like to spend time in local markets, grocery stores and high-end dining establishments to learn their favorite foods, visit historical landmarks to better understand their beliefs and meet with locals who love to speak about their culture. For example, the flavor Goddess is inspired by my travels to Egypt. When visiting the pyramids, I learned how hibiscus is the tea of the gods and local tea shops like to serve black tea with mint leaves. I decided to blend these two flavors together for a unique flavor profile with a floral yet fresh taste. The name Goddess was influenced by the female pharaohs I learned about while there like Hatshepsut and the female CEO of the factory I worked with in the heart of Cairo. I find hope in sharing these travel stories and believe food, especially chocolate, has a natural connecting and healing ability. After exploring over 35 countries and meeting inspirational people every step of the way, my vision is to celebrate the beauty of our differences through chocolate and spread my personal mantra to “Live by Love.”


4. Can you outline the process of making chocolate and how the variations in the processes yield the results you want?


My chocolate truffles are made with a crisp chocolate shell and contrasted with a very soft ganache interior. Tempered chocolate is used to create thin shells with a moulding technique. The ganache is started by heating cream and infusing the herbs and spices to transfer the flavor. Chocolate is added to this mixture and blended until completely melted. The last step is to add butter to this emulsion. Once cooled, the ganache is then piped into the open shells and tempered chocolate is used to seal this shell and preserve the ganache inside. After the chocolates are set, they are de-moulded, decorated and packed in gift boxes to ensure the freshness.

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