Cheese and chocolate might not be the first pairing that springs to mind, but if it's one you haven't tried yet, you must! We've recently discovered some great combinations that create a taste explosion so much great than its parts.
In celebration of International Chocolate Day last month, Clare and Nico visited local chocolate maker Pump Street Chocolate. Based just a few miles from our Aldeburgh shop here in Suffolk, Pump Street Chocolate has been making artisan bean-to-bar chocolate for seven years. Pump Street is also well known for its Orford bakery, which makes crusty sourdough loaves and Eccles cakes crammed with delicious Vostizza currants.
We took six of our favourites from the Slate "wall of cheese" to share with Pump Street's Sally at her tasting table covered with little bowls of broken chocolate. All Pump Street Chocolate bars are produced from single-estate cocoa beans that are fermented by the grower in the country of origin. This similarity with cheese making, where lactose is fermented into lactic acid by the addition of starter culture, suggests the two are destined to be perfect partners.
As with all cheese pairing, we explored matching flavour profiles, and also contrasts so that the cheese and chocolate did not overwhelm each other. Tasting the cheese and chocolate simultaneously we found a good match was one where the cheese flavour segued seamlessly into the chocolate, as it warmed in the mouth and lingered on the palate. Our tasting found that high cocoa content was important but it seemed there was an ideal profile, around 65-75% cocoa solids in the chocolate. Any higher and the chocolate flavour became too strong and bitter, overpowering the cheese and hampering it from shining through.
Brie de Meaux AOC and Madagascar Milk 58%
Pump Street's Madagascar Milk bar is made using luxurious full fat milk and perfectly complements the creamy, nutty taste of Brie de Meaux. This chocolate has a fruity finish with hints of cherry and raspberry that provide a pleasing sharpness to cut through the richness of the Brie.
This was a wonderful surprise - a complete cheese sandwich in one mouthful! This bar, the latest in Pump Street's "Bakery Series", is an amalgamation of white chocolate, brown bread crumbs, and a little 100% cocoa powder. Its texture is crunchy; its flavour is toasty and malty with a hint of caramel. It is a sweet bar that works with the nutty, slightly piquant flavour of ewe's milk Manchego in a similar way to a slice of membrillo or spoonful of sweet chilli jam.
Aged for over three years, this Gouda with its deep orange colour and visible protein crystals is such a treat. Its flavour is bursting with caramels and nuttiness. Pump Street's Jamaica 75% bar is the perfect match with its taste boozy currants and initial sharpness, which fades to rich depth and hints of rum.
Comté is made from the rich milk of Montbeliarde cows that graze lush Alpine pastures. The Comté Vieux we tasted is aged for 18 months, twice as long as standard Comté. It has a good strength of flavour but remains fairly soft for an aged cheese. Butteriness is its dominant flavour which sits perfectly with the yeasty, clotted cream flavour of this bar.
Colston Bassett Stilton and Limited Edition Brazil 66%
This "Limited Edition" bar is peppery with notes of liquorice. Its mid-taste explosion of these strong flavours worked harmoniously with Colston Bassett's beautiful Stilton, always buttery and creamy in flavour. Here the flavour match of pepper enhanced the piquancy of the cheese's delicate blue veining, usually deemed on the milder side of blue cheeses.
This unique Pump Street bar, another from the "Bakery Series", incorporates crumbs of their famous sourdough loaves. These crumbs brought an interesting texture and toasty flavour to the pairing with scoopable, creamy Gorgonzola Dolce. The secondary hit of sea salt created that classic sweet / salt combination to finish.
Pairing is all about having fun with flavours, a bit of trial and error to discover some combination gems. Exploring the possibilities of cheese and chocolate was all about creating the right journey in the mouth - flavours must hit at the right moment as well as working together in the right way. Strong distinct flavours in the chocolate were important, but not an exceedingly high cocoa content. In the Pump Street Chocolate range, the "Bakery Series" is a unique offering and definitely worth a try with cheese.