Chocolate and cheese, please: chocolate and cheese make a tasty pairing!

Fiscalini Cheddar and Taza Chocolate

Have you ever sunk your teeth into a dense custard of cocoa and bittersweet chocolate whipped into cream cheese with sugar, eggs and sour cream? Doesn’t ring a bell? Maybe because the entire recipe was baked into crushed graham cracker crumbs and topped with chocolate sauce before you coated your taste buds with its decadence. It’s pretty clear: cheesecake proves cheese and chocolate really do go well together. Now up the ante and go artisanal by daring to accompany your cheese with chocolate this year.

To start things off right, crumble up a bit of Fiscalini Bandaged cheddar from California and let it rest next to a bar of Vosges Creole chocolate! The almond and sharp, dried-grass flavors of this perfect American cheddar harmonize in jazzy perfection with the New Orleans-style chicory coffee nuances of the bittersweet chocolate. Little bits of cocoas nibs blended into the expertly crafted bar of goodness will (as is stamped right on the chocolate) make you “close your eyes.”

If you know Vosges Haut Chocolat, then you know they concoct pairings that will blow your mind. One of their unique truffles encases Italian Taleggio cheese with a dark chocolate shell, walnuts and Tahitian vanilla beans. They lovingly call this culinary treat the “Rooster.” If you are putting together a chocolate gift for someone special soon, make sure you include this truffle. The “Rooster” is sure to wake up the senses, and who doesn’t want a little Taleggio from their loved one?

The next best pairing of cheese and chocolate has an elegant twist. Coupole from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery works amazingly well with sweet chocolate. This cheese is a charmer on its own, with a punch of goatiness and a smooth mouth feel. Lake Champlain Chocolates makes a raspberry truffle dark chocolate bar with a ganache center that enhances the allure of Coupole. The comforting cocoa butter, vanilla and heavy cream (which Lake Champlain expertly includes during the chocolate-making process) ties the combination into a perfect bow. The natural raspberry flavor of the soft center matches the intensity and texture of Coupole’s charm.

To round out the chocolate fun, add a sheep’s milk cheese to your pairings. With a satisfyingly oily, meaty and smoky flavor, Idiazabal fits the bill. This rustic Spanish cheese was once hung in shepherds’ chimneys to drain. The absorbed smoke imparted a real meaty character — like gamy lamb chops. I’ll take a mole sauce with that! This cheese will really shake up your next mixer. Throw down a chunk of dark spicy Aztec organic chocolate also from Lake Champlain next to Idiazabal and watch things get really caliente. The slow burn from the cayenne pepper works well with the earthiness of the sheep’s milk. The vanilla and cinnamon in this chocolate recipe cools the palate while the crunch from the pumpkin seeds creates a textural twist.

While you have the Idiazabal out, pair it with Taza’s ginger Mexicano stone-ground chocolate, too. The grainy texture of this 70 percent dark chocolate and the lingering memory of ginger on your tongue make an exciting and unique combination sure to be the talk of the cheese board. Taza makes an impressive lineup of chocolate flavors based on the traditional Oaxacan method of stone-grinding beans. Orange, salt and pepper, guajillo chili, and salted almond are just a few examples of the flavors available from this simple artisan chocolate producer. Still scared to pair cheese with chocolate? Start easy and mix one of these chocolate discs into a hot pot of milk for an authentic Mexican hot chocolate.

Just “close your eyes” and take the plunge.

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