I’m sure that most of the planet is aware of the great combination of pears and blue cheese (roquefort, stilton, gorgonzola). What is it about this pairing works so well?
In describing the flavors associated with “the blue” flavors of these cheeses, common descriptors are “sweet caramel, spicy, peppery, nutty, fruity”. Detecting these flavors in a cheese is the joy of eating it. Missing that element of taste would defeat the purpose of buying blue cheese! With these flavors in mind, it seems logical, that those flavors themselves, without the cheese, should work well together. And we see that, pears, nuts and caramel find themselves in countless recipes together-usually accompanied with another partner...duh, you knew it was going to be chocolate!
Heston Blumenthal, chef/owner of the fat duck, demonstrated how he makes a blue cheese chocolate molten cake in the “Kitchen Chemistry” series from the BBC (also available as a kid’s science textbook). He also explains why and how blue cheese and chocolate pair well together.
It becomes clear that if tasting 2 or more distinct foods together, we should taste the individual components and know them well. Then see how they interplay.
This process is part of how we craft chocolate. We taste the chocolate-one of the benefits- and pay attention to the flavors as they manifest. We try and describe the beginning, middle, and end. We then modify our processes to hone in on the final flavors in the bar. We give a general description of the flavors of the bar as a guide. When you taste chocolate with a guide or map, you are able to pay attention to different flavors in the spectrum.
On a deeper level, how often do you pay attention to the actual food in your mouth?
When I pay attention, I eat slower- maybe one of the definitions of tasting. I focus on aroma before I put the chocolate in my mouth, chew a few times, then let it start to melt (the chocolate should be room temperature (about 21°C, if it is too cold, it will take longer to melt). A thicker bar may require more chewing. When the chocolate is broken up, it creates more surface area, and the heat of your mouth melts the cocoa butter faster. This increases the amount of cocoa solids (primary flavors) to be perceived. By allowing a slower melt, the flavors are introduced more sequentially. During the conching process the cocoa butter in liquid phase, were in close proximity to the freshly roasted cocoa solids. The cocoa butter picks up aroma and flavor, and as the time increases, the flavor is more pronounced. Thus as the chocolate melts (what is its texture? temperature? viscosity? etc.), the flavors gradually become more robust and up front. As the flavors become more intense, are they fruity, nutty, chocolatey, roasted coffee, caramel, etc? How does the flavor end (finish, aftertaste)? All of theses elements and their perception are part of what makes chocolate so wonderful and complex.
The same is true with cheeses, wines, coffees, bread, and bread. How do all of these complex flavor items pair with each other and chocolate? What flavor components do they share? By re-examining the individual components of flavor, we find that the sum is truly greater than its parts.
Homework: Taste some good chocolate, looking for individual flavors, (don’t worry about what you come up with, there are over 800 distinct flavor components in chocolate, it’s probably in there somewhere). Next try eating chocolate with that flavor together-a “Ratatatouille” moment.