Chocolate and Cheese: Handsome men in hairnets discuss a New Winter Sport?
Taza Chocolate in Somerville Ma.
5 years ago Alex Whitmore and partners Larry Slotnick and Kathleen Fulton (also Alex's wife) started this mesoamerican-style bean-to-bar chocolate factory. And true to their vision, this chocolate is handmade from start to finish. They buy their beans in the DR, Mexico, Belize, and they recently added Bolivia. (note: if you get a chance, try the 87% bolivian choc bar side by side with the 80% DR...then you'll really see what terroir means to the cacao bean.)
Their beans are fermented, which means, like all things fermented, flavor is amped. And then they get roasted (in the fabulous Willi Wonka machine pictured below. don't you want one? I do. and it's RED!) The beans are then stone ground, on mexican stone mills that Alex hand chisels himself (check out the pic below of him holding one.) Impressive.
What you get from all this hand crafting is a nubby textural chocolate that's more an ingredient or flavoring and counterpoint then candy. The mixed in flavorings, true to mesoamerican locals, tell the tale of why they work with cheese. I was a skeptic, but Formaggio Kitchen had slipped Alex some cheese pairings for us to try:
1. Calcagno, grana style sheeps milk, with Orange Taza. This was nice, but I think the orange would have gone better with a goat..maybe I'll try some with some Rawson Brook Monterey Chevre this weekend.The Calcagno rocked the salt and pepper chocolate; saltiness in the cheese was like harmony, and the pepper reverbed the savory.
2. Cato Corner's Hooligan was paired with Cinnamon. Given more time, and the opportunity to sample everything in their inventory, I'd probably find a pairing I'd like better for this cheese which I really like. But the sample we had wasn't as assertive as usual, and the cinnamon--which is much more powerful that the crapola that's been sitting in my cabinent since 1972--is just a tough dance partner. Kind of like asking Sly Stone to dance with my grandma in a walker. Someone's going down, and talent is going to be wasted.
3. Then, the traditional...if cheese and chocolate pairings are ever traditional...Stilton, in this case a nearly perfect piece of Colston Bassett, was paired with a "plain" 70% bar. I decourously had a couple of tastes with the 70%, the orange, and the salt and pepper. I consider it a huge victory not to have grabbed the cheese plate and handfuls of each chocolate and barricaded myself in the roasting room while I dispatched the lot of it.
I behaved like a superstar. This is not recommended in the privacy of your own home.
Two final thoughts. When tasting cheese and chocolate, put them both in your mouth at the same time. With Taza's texture, the bean fragments and sugar crystals scrape against the pleasing fattiness in cheese. And drinking accompaniments...well that might be the exponential multiplier that could vault these pairings into a winter olympic category. I mean ICE DANCING is a sport. Why not cheese pairing.