Wine, cheese and chocolate pairings. You just never know if you don’t try it. That’s certainly the case here, at least, because the combination of cheese and chocolate isn’t the first food pairing to come to mind. Both foods pair well (separately) with wine; chocolate is wonderful with tea, and cheese and beer are a match made in heaven. But the ménage a trois—chocolate, cheese and wine—makes for a sensory-taste experience like no other.
Lunds & Byerlys FoodE expert Joan Donatelle and France 44’s wine specialist Karina Roe give us the lowdown on cheese, chocolate and wine pairings, plus key tips for some unusual yet delicious combinations.
Donatelle is no stranger to tastings. She shares with us some of her best tips.
First and foremost, Donatelle says to consider your budget and the number of guests. Then move into purchasing the chocolate, cheese and wine, setting up placemats and creating your board. When it comes to plating, go one of two ways: individual paper placements at a table tasting or a rectangular plate for each person with a large cheese board.
“A large cheese board creates more of a grazing style,” Donatelle says. It’s easier to spread out the different kinds of cheeses and chocolates, plus additional appetizers. She says to garnish with rosemary sprigs and kumquats, on top of adding almonds, fig jam and honey.
Though one of her most important tips is to set out a palate cleanser. “[Be sure to] add a plain water cracker to help cleanse your palate in between samples,” she says. That way you can be sure to keep the dark chocolates from the milk, the alpine cheeses from the cheddars and the deep red wines from the Champagne.
Cheese + Wine
When pairing cheese with wine, both Roe and Donatelle opt for three categories: alpine, blue and cheddar cheeses. Pair each type of cheese to a specific wine. It’s important to note that both experts recommend pairing one cheese to one wine, since it’s challenging to pair multiple cheeses to one wine.
Pairing alpine cheeses is much like pairing dark chocolate—pair a northern cheese, such as Gruyere or chevre cheese, with a medium-bodied, northern wine. “I love to stick to where the cheese comes from,” Roe says. “That’s where the wine should come from too. Look toward a northern climate, like northern Italy, for slightly delicate wines to go with alpine cheeses.”
As for blue cheese, Donatelle recommends Cashel blue, Gorgonzola or go with a brie. To pair, go for a full-bodied red, such as a syrah or cabernet. “[Blue cheese] can be tough to handle on their own, but drizzle it with a little bit of honey … or smear it on bread,” Roe says.
Cheddar and farmstead cheeses happen to be one of the easiest to pair to wine—but might bring the most surprising combinations. Roe says, “I love a fudgy, buttery cheddar cheese with chardonnay. It’s a little surprising, because you’re matching the flavor and texture [of the cheese] to that of the wine.” Widmer’s 4 Year aged cheddar or Westminster Farmhouse English cheddar cheese are two that pair well.
Chocolate + Wine
Chocolate and wine are a tried-and-true combination, especially when Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. But, as it turns out, we may have been combining the wrong chocolate with the wrong wine—Roe says that though dark chocolate and a deep, red wine seems like the best pairing, it’s actually not. “Chocolate has tannin [a bitter ingredient] in it, just like red wine does. So it’ll dry out your mouth and taste astringent,” she says.
That doesn’t mean pairing red wine with dark chocolate is barred. Instead, Roe recommends a pinot noir or a grenache—two red wines that are lower in tannin. “Make sure [the wine] is more fruity, ripe and juicy, and not super tart,” she says.
On the other hand, consider pairing milk chocolate with a dessert wine, such as port. With a lesser percentage of cacao, milk chocolate is sweeter and easier to pair with a rich red wine. Roe says to match the sugar content in the chocolate to that in the wine so the pairing will balance out.
Roe recommends sticking to red. “Only in extremely instances can [chocolate and white or rosé wine] go together … They just don’t have the level of sweetness or intensity of flavor to make for a good chocolate pairing,” she explains. However, a sparkling Champagne or sparkling rosé goes well with a lighter chocolate, such as milk or white chocolate. Roe recommends Voirin-Jumel. “It has a lot of great depths of flavor, and almost tastes like a chocolate nougat by itself,” she says.
Chocolate, Cheese + Wine
You know what they say—opposites attract. And that’s the case for this trio. Puianello lambrusco, a sparkling red wine, should be your go-to when combining the trio. “Serve it chilled, and it goes excellent with Parmigiano-Reggiano,” Roe says. “Put that on a plate with your choice of chocolate and prosciutto … That’s an excellent cheese tray.”
To spice up your Valentine’s, Donatelle says to grab a box of assorted truffles, triple cream cheese and a Champagne for a romantic plating. Opt for a rosé prosecco (or grab a plain prosecco if rosé isn’t your jam) to add an extra layer of fruity flavors that pair well with cheese and light chocolate.
To bring the three together, start by tasting each on its own, beginning with the chocolate, to explore the aroma and flavor. Then place a piece of chocolate in your mouth, to allow it to melt, about 10 seconds. Take a small sip of wine, then take a bite of the cheese. Enjoy the aromatic flavors!
A Match Made in Heaven
When plating your next cheese board, Donatelle recommends these delicate combinations.
Villars Fusion Milk & Dark chocolate, Marieke Aged Gouda and sparkling red Banfi Rosa Regale.
Villars Dark Noir chocolate, Blue Stilton cheese, Grahams Six Grapes Port.
Villars Blond Pure, or almond bark, cream cheese and Risata Moscato d’Asti.
For an added experience, try using local TC Chocolate’s flavored chocolates, such as café au late, caramel crack, wild orange and scorpion pepper or Chocolove’s crystalized ginger, chilies and cherries and almonds and sea salt.
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