Chocolate and Cheese Is the Perfect Salty-Sweet Indulgence
"Chocolate sin queso es como amor sin besos [chocolate without cheese is like love without kisses]," my waiter said as he plopped a thick chunk of farmer's cheese into my steaming cup of hot cocoa. The cheese looked as foreign in my cocoa as I felt in the Ecuadorian café that chilly morning, but curiosity quickly got the best of me. I spooned out a melted strand and let the salty-sweet mixture swirl in my mouth before immediately diving back in. Hot chocolate with cheese is a popular Ecuadorian pairing, but many American Certified Cheese Professionals (CCPS) rave about the way other chocolates and cheeses bring out the best in each other, too, with their creamy textures and bright bursts of salt and sugar. Chocolate and cheese share many similar qualities that make for some surprisingly delicious pairings. Give this salty and sweet combo a try with this CCP-approved chocolate and cheese pairing guide.
Chocolate and Cheese Pairing Guide
Give each of these 10 cheese and chocolate pairing ideas a try and choose your favorite. For the best tasting experience, serve cheeses at room temperature and sample each pairing in the same bite (i.e., chew your cheese and chocolate at the same time).
Gruyère + Hot Chocolate
Although mozzarella and farmer's cheese typically accompany orders of hot chocolate in cafés throughout South America—where locals debate whether to eat the melted cheese first or last once it's melted in the cocoa—gruyère's nutty yet sweet flavor and low melting point make it a decadent addition to hot chocolate. Try melting Grand Suisse Le Gruyere ($52 for three 8-ounce blocks, Amazon) into a hot cup of To'ak's Ecuadorian dark drinking chocolate, T.cacao, or your favorite hot chocolate.
10-Year Aged Cheddar + Dark Chocolate (70% Cacao) with Sea Salt
"The salt crystals in the chocolate match with the tyrosine crystals in the cheddar and it feels like a cross-over textural experience," explains Rebekah Baker, CCP with Tillamook. In other words, this classic pairing balances the texture, flavor, and intensity of both the chocolate and the cheese. Try Tillamook Maker's Reserve 2010 or Widmers 10-Year Cheddar ($36, Amazon) with a 70% or higher cacao chocolate bar with sea salt ($3, Target) such as Woodblock's Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt or Mast's Sea Salt Chocolate bar with 72% cacao. For bonus pairing fun, serve this with a wine pairing of Left Bend 2016 Sierra Morena Red Blend.
Ossau-Iraty + Fruity Dark Chocolate
Ossau-Iraty is a firm sheep's milk cheese and is said to be one of the first cheeses ever created. Its grassy-sweet undertones become vibrant and nutty when paired with dark chocolate infused with fruit. "One of my favorite pairings is Luisa Abrams Tocancins with Cupuacu fruit with Ossau-Iraty, a semi-firm sheep's milk tome," says Matt Caputo, CCP and president at Tony Caputo's Market & Deli. "The tropical fruit blast with sheepy musk; it's magic together." Also try Murray's Ossau-Iraty ($34 per pound, Murray's) with Xocolatl's Love & Happiness bar that's infused with blood orange and raspberry.
Vegan Cheese + Vegan Chocolate
All chocolate is inherently plant-based, as cacao grows on trees, but this pairing keeps it pure without any additional milk or milk products (i.e., whey, casein, milk fat, etc.). Try the vegan Dark Chocolate Bar from GoodSam ($4, Thrive Market) or Divine Treasures' vegan Chocolate Disks with a light spread of a soft vegan cheese such as Treeline's Sea Salt & Pepper or Cavendish Woodland from The Mansion's Pantry. Make it a pairing trifecta by pouring La Crema Russian River Chardonnay (also vegan!) to accompany the chocolate and cheese pairing.
Young Goat Cheese + Stone Ground Dark Chocolate
"Texturally, these two are lovely together as you get a contrast between the thick, claggy, mouth-coating nature of the cheese and the rougher, almost gritty texture of stone-ground chocolate," says Baker. "Young goat cheese has a bright, lemony tang which, when paired with a fruit forward dark chocolate combine into a chocolate-cheesecake-like experience." Try Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog ($22 per pound, Amazon) with Taza Stone Ground 85% Super Dark Chocolate Disc.
Comté + Hazelnut Chocolate
While you could smear Nutella on a grilled cheese to get a similar effect, you'd be missing out on the nutty nuances of this French pairing. Comté is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), meaning the cheese must be produced within a specific region in France to be called true Comté. The milk comes from one of just two local breeds of cows and produces an aromatic and buttery cheese with naturally nutty notes that are amplified when paired with hazelnut-infused milk chocolate. Pair 18-Month Aged Comté ($35 per pound, Murray's) with the Noisettes Unhinged Bar from La Maison du Chocolat to add an extra satisfying crunch to this already sensational pairing.
Blue Cheese + Dark Chocolate Ganache Truffles
French chef Michel Bras made this pairing famous when he invented his dark chocolate and blue cheese dessert, coulant. Chocolate and blue cheese share upwards of 70+ flavor compounds, and the two basically become one as the fatty acids from the cheese cut through the bitterness of the dark chocolate while enhancing its deep vanilla undertones. Try La Maison du Chocolat's version or another favorite dark chocolate ganache truffle ($3, Target) with crumbles of Fourme Aux Moelleux blue cheese or just let Lillie Belle Farms do the pairing for you with their Stella Blue Bar or their Smokey Blue Cheese Truffles. Pair those bold flavors with a glass of Napa Valley Quilt Cabernet Sauvignon ($50, Wine.com).
Aged Gouda + Milk Chocolate
"Aged Gouda has a firmer, crystalline texture which plays well with milk chocolate, which has a creamier mouthfeel," explains Jill Allen, CCP with Tillamook. "The milky sweetness of the chocolate when combined with the bold roasty notes of the cheese produces a caramel-like flavor." Try Beemster XO Extra Aged ($17, Amazon) with Valrhona Lait Jivara chocolate or Roomano Extra Aged Gouda with Alter Eco Grass Fed Milk Chocolate ($3, Walmart).
Parmigiano Reggiano + Chocolate Balsamic
True Parmigiano Reggiano comes only from the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia in Italy, where it's produced under the rules of the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and often served with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar. The sweetness and acidity of the vinegar play off the sweetness and acidity of an aged Parmigianino Reggiano (the older the better). So adding bold chocolate to the mix intensifies the salt of the two ingredients while adding a creamy texture. Try Bertozzi 36-Month Parmigiano Reggiano or Frank and Sal 30-Month Parmigiano Reggiano ($26 per half pound, Amazon) drizzled with Kosterina's Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar or pair Kosterina's Fig & Balsamic EVOO Dark Chocolate bar with a 24-Month Solo di Bruna Parmigiano Reggiano made with milk from the region's rare Italian brown cows. Enjoy while sipping a glass of Domaine Saint Gayan Gigondas Cuvee.
Alpine-Style Cheese + Peanut Butter Truffles
"Alpine-style cheeses are known to have nutty notes as part of their signature flavor profile, so pairing them with nut infused anything will amplify their latent nuttiness," explains Molly Browne, CCP and education manager for Dairy Farms of Wisconsin. "Using a peanut butter truffle to do this is just plain fun." Try Upland's Cheese Pleasant Ridge Reserve ($25 per pound, Amazon) with Vosges' Peanut Butter Bonbons.