The Chocolate Life

Discover Chocolate and Live La Vida Cocoa!

As we go through life's various sensory taste stages, I am trying to learn from other people's experiences. On average, a child's taste and flavor perceptions are not as “mature” as an adult. Although, my five year old son, who actually eats almost everything we put in front of him, as most kids, will naturally gear towards sweets and basic flavors such as chocolate, apple juice, chicken, etc. As we grow older, the sense of smell and vision help our taste buds become more developed and adventurous.

We are all different and like many different things. What I might consider spectacular and unique, my wife and children may dismiss as detestable! I have had the good fortune of sampling and experiencing many flavorful foods which yielded a broad spectrum of satisfaction levels. I consider and brag myself of being a chocolate purist. A simple single origin dark chocolate will always be my primary source for happiness fuel. But every “now and then”, more often “then than now” I like to find the perfect compliment to great chocolate. I have come to appreciate parings with red wine, peanuts, raspberries, chilly, mint, sea salt, etc. In my case, these are examples of matching two foods that compliment each other superbly. Among all things tried, nothing excites and revolts my taste and senses like the mix of chocolate and passion fruit!

Which brings me to my query in The Chocolate Life: What pairing with chocolate gives you that ultimate taste HIGH?

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Ramon -

This is a very interesting question and one I work on quite a lot when I put together my "Sophisticated Pairings" events. I did one last weekend and here are some of the ingredients and highlights:

I used four chocolates - Felchlin Criolait (33% milk made with beans from the Lake Maracaibo region of Venezuela) and three Rancho San Jacinto (Ecuador) -- 55, 65, and 100%. I made a fondue-like melted chocolate from the Criolait and the 100% with half-and-half that I used because it's just easier to work with and I cut the sweetness of the milk chocolate with the 100%.

There were going to be three wines to drink but the shop did not deliver one of them, so we had only two: a Washington State Gewürztraminer (Chateau St Michelle, both 2009 and 2010) and a California Pinot Noir (2010 Mark West). The wine that did not make it was a Prosecco - which is my all-around favorite wine for pairing with chocolates of all kinds. I prefer it over most Champagnes because it tends to have a softer bubble structure (meshes with the chocolate), and also tends to be less acidic and alcoholic-tasting than most champagnes. Proseccos are also generally much less expensive.

I like Gewürztraminers that are on the dry side (they do exist) and that have a mild effervescence. This particular Gewürz comes as a surprise to people who reflexively ask for Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio - both of which I find more problematic for general pairing. I also tend to stay away from acidic whites and in general find it easier to pair whites with dark chocolates. The Pinot is also one I use a lot because it's an "easy drinking" wine. It doesn't demand any particular attention by having too much of any particular varietal character. Thus, it goes with many things. Reds with lots of varietal nuance (and/or that need plenty of time open before really being drinkable) don't lend themselves well to impromptu pairing, I have found. They require a lot more thought to make "work".

The event format was a la minute: I have lots of different ingredients and I prepare small bites to order in addition to combinations that I create based on experience and knowledge of the ingredients I've selected. 

One of those combinations is a variation on a Japanese hand roll (temaki) using bresaola (very lean air-cured beef) as the wrapper instead of rice and seaweed. Inside are arugula, herbed goat cheese, and a dollop of the melted chocolate.

Another combination was a rosemary cheese cracker on top of which was a thin shmear of the melted chocolate, cheese aged in cognac (from Sartori), dried apricot poached in simple syrup, curry-flavored salt, and a candied pecan.

As you can tell, I like complex layering of flavors and textures. And people love being challenged by them - in this event format they are open to new ideas for flavor combination and I engage them to push them past the edge of their comfort zone and keep an open mind.

I had one other cheese for the day (for a total of three), a four-year aged Gouda, so I had plenty of variety there. In addition I had:

a good aged balsamic vinegar
a very good olive oil
smoked pink salt
fleur de sel (from a small harvester in Oregon)
poached figs (simple syrup, same as the apricots)
marcona almonds (in oil, with rosemary - phenomenal with the fig)
an Italian herbed sea salt with sage, rosemary, black pepper, and garlic
cherry wood smoked soy sauce
Granny Smith apple (matchsticks)
sun dried tomato (chiffonade)

One of the memorable combinations I made up for a vegetarian guest was to put a dash of balsamic vinegar into a Chinese-style soup spoon and on top of that layer the apple matchsticks, sun dried tomato chiffonade, olive oil, and the smoked soy sauce with a dusting of 100% chocolate flakes.

Personally, I have found that bresaola works and prosciutto does not. In part, that's because of the high fat content in the prosciutto, which results in an unpleasant texture when paired with the chocolate. The bresaola is extremely lean which is the reason it works better (in my experience) in pairing.

Furthermore, I have found that it's more important to have a good taste memory than it is to be a supertaster. Having a good taste memory enables me to "taste" flavor combinations in my head before I put them together for a guest, and it's that skill that turns out to be most valuable when working on pairings.

Dear Clay,

As usual, when I read your posts, I keep on thinking "man, this guy's passion is way beyond my pay grade."   Just amazed at the level of preparation you go to entertain your guests: A HOST to the fullest meaning of the word!. 

Your choice of chocolate is simple and superb at the same time.  If I have it my way, I also choose a 75% dark from Ecuador with my all time favorite wine which will always be a well cantered Opus One. On your discerning choice of bresaola over prociutto which I also find fatty (still delicious), have you tried Jamon de Jabubo? Guaranteed you will be hooked for life!

By the way, the other day, I was feeling "peckish"  and fooling around with some dark chocolate and a little saffron (goes a long way).Quite interesting and looking for that third "ingrdient" to take me to the next level... and maybe an invite to one of your parties. I'll let you know when I find it.

Thank you for sharing your experiences and your knowledge.



Last week I really enjoyed Askinosie's Davao Dark with Fuji apples, really good combo!

My other fav combo is to have a hot chocolate with any meal or food that has chilli in it. I am not a big fan of putting chilli in my chocolate or in a hot chocolate but alongside is great!

I'm experienced in some wonderful matches to whisky. The complexities of both result in some elevating experiences. I've tried (red) wines, but often found the origine chocolate to strong, it pushed away the wine, even bold argentinian ones. Whisky has more power to make bright balances.

Here's our latest event post: 

Soon I'll be trying pairings with cheese as well.


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