Cheese and Chocolate 101
Both cheese and chocolate are delicious, complex, and nuanced. Both are maddeningly satiating and addictive. They make you feel elated, a sensation that is hard to part with once ignited.
The process of making chocolate and cheese have similarities: they are both fermented. Cacao seeds must be fermented, dried, and roasted to produce the signature chocolate flavor. Fermentation is a product of yeasts and bacteria that in combination produce ethanol, lactic acid (also present in cheese), and acetic acid along with important aromatic flavor precursors that are responsible for chocolate’s memorable taste. The microbes present on the cacao seeds are essential to the fermentation process, just as microbes in cheese are essential to the dairy curd's final flavor.
In recent years, the microbiological landscape of cheese has been studied in more detail, and reveals a complicated world of healthy bacteria, yeasts, and funghi that develop and transform as a cheese ages.The final flavor of cheese is attributed to the compounds produced as these microbes ferment. Inherently, there will be a magic "sweet" spot where cheese and chocolate pair beautifully with one another, sometimes similar nutty, creamy, tangy, metallic, and roasted aromas blend or complement each other.
Featured in photo above: Milène Jardine Harvey Wallbanger chocolate truffle and Délice de Bourgogne triple cream cow's milk cheese.
So what makes cheese addictive? Cheese is known for containing tyrosine, an amino acid that clusters into crystals in firmer cheeses like Gouda and Parmigiano Reggiano. Some studies have found tyrosine to be useful during conditions of stress and sleep deprivation. It also increases dopamine, the neurotransmitter famous for making one happy.
Chocolate is known as an aphrodesiac, despite researchers claims that the two chemicals found in chocolate (tryptophan and phenylethylamine) are too small to actually have an uplifting effect. Tryptophan is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal. The other, phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, is released in the brain when people fall in love. In light of this research, it's interesting to contemplate that cheese has the potential to exceed chocolate as the signature pick-me-up.
Any way you write it, however, cheese and chocolate taste good. So by default, they will make you feel good, too.
Basic Pairing Guidelines
My rule of thumb is to pair chocolate with a cheese that has a similar flavor profile. If a chocolate is more nutty, pair it with an aged, firm, nutty cheese. If it is a little savory and funky, pair it with a washed rind that will enhance those flavors. If the chocolate is dark dark dark and slightly metallic, pair it with a creamy blue.
The other direction you can take is to find contrasts so that the cheese and chocolate do not overwhelm each other. One of those classic pairings is a triple cream with a dark chocolate. The cream in the triple cream cheese serves as a sweet, buttery accent to the astringent, slightly bitter quality of dark chocolate.
Another element to consider when pairing cheese and chocolate is the acidity of each. If a chocolate is slightly more acidic, perhaps tart and cherry-like in the flavor, it will require a cheese that complements and contrasts this flavor, such as a sweet, creamy blue.
In any case, I seek out cheeses that have a certain amount of body to them, dry pecorinos or crottins do not often stand up to the body and flavor of chocolate, but every rule is meant to be broken.
Here are some no-brainer cheeses and chocolate bar recommendations to start. Be sure to read the descriptions of finer chocolate bars, often found on more premium brands of chocolate that savor the cacao bean and its processing. This will also help inform what cheeses to pair with the flavors and aromas the chocolate naturally contains.
Spreadable Fresh and Bloomy Goat Cheeses: Fresh chevre, Vermont Creamery's Bijou or Coupole, Bucheron. Pairs best with 70 to 80% cocoa. Bright, herbaceous, and tart chocolate work well here.
Young to Medium Aged Triple Cream Cheeses: Mt. Tam, Delice de Bourgogne, Brillat Savarin, Nettle Meadow Kunik. Pairs best with 80 to 90% cocoa or milk chocolate. Dark chocolate with a hint of minerality works well here. Milk chocolate complements the creaminess of the cheese as well.
Medium-Bodied Washed Rind Cheeses: Langres, Taleggio, Bufaletto, Willoughby. Pairs best with 60 to 80% cocoa. Funky, earthy, herbaceous, and spicy chocolates work well here.
Dense, Nutty Cheeses: Comte, Gruyere, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Beaufort, Farmhouse Cheddar (such as Cabot Clothbound), Medium-Aged Goudas Pairs best with 75 to 85% cocoa. Signature nutty and roasted chocolate flavors pair well here.
All Blue Cheese: Stilton, St. Agur, Fourme D'Ambert, Rogue River Blue, Bayley Hazen Blue. Pairs best with 75 to 90% cocoa. Notes of minerality and flint, tart, nutty, notes in chocolate all pair well with blue.
Pairing Menu of Milène Jardine Chocolate and Cheese
1. Fresh Chevre + Hibiscus/Mint Truffle
This combination is deliciously bright, tangy, fruity, and minty fresh. The goat cheese accentuates the acidity of the chocolate and makes the hibiscus/mint flavor really pop.
2. Délice de Bourgogne + Harvey Wallbanger Truffle
The sweet, orange notes of this truffle works seamlessly with a triple cream cheese. This is an example of a body and flavor matching in the chocolate and cheese.
3. Comté + Dark Chocolate Truffle
Comté is a classic nutty French cheese with a balance of a pliable, supple texture, and small tyrosine crystals that pack a punch of fruity flavor. It is a classic pairing for dark chocolate.
4. Young Taleggio + Ginger/Turmeric/Black Pepper Truffle
The earthy, spicey characteristic of ginger, turmeric, and black pepper require a funky, medium-bodied cheese that doesn't get overwhelmed by the chocolate. Enter the washed rind, Taleggio.
5. St. Agur Blue + Whiskey/Sea Salt Truffle
Whiskey is naturally astrigent, and the truffle is quite boozy, so it required a cheese pairing that would stand up and balance the whisky flavor. Enter, St. Agur, a creamy, cratered blue that balance sweet cream and flint. The salt on the truffle binds the cheese and chocolate together.
Try this menu at home! Our cheese & chocolate packages are a great introduction. Our Adagio Cheese Server was featured in this plating.