June is National Candy Month, but who designated it so? Perhaps the same masterminds behind National Dairy Month, also in June. While I’ve staved off osteoporosis with a daily habit of peanut butter cup ice cream for the past decade, this mix of candy and dairy surely isn’t for everyone. Pairing confections with cheese is as easy as pie, though, and perhaps a more intriguing dessert – all you have to do is start sampling and remember to open some bubbly.
At a recent cheese class at St. James Cheese Company, local chocolatier Cheryl Scripter from Bittersweet Confections and cheesemonger Casey Foote paired more than seven combinations of artisan chocolates and cheeses (and wine) to a sold-out crowd. The concepts that apply to pairing wine and cheese, like balancing flavors and choosing foods from the same region, apply to cheese and chocolate pairings as well. More importantly, a good cheese will elevate the taste of your chocolate. Roquefort, the classic raw sheep’s milk blue with its intensely complex flavors, requires only a subtle chocolate – such as Bittersweet’s dark chocolate truffle dusted in cocoa powder, and even then the combination still borders on decadence-overload. Sottocenere al Tartufo is a stand-alone cheese by any standard, perfect by itself as an excuse to indulge. An Italian semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with slivers of truffle, the rind dusted with spices – nutmeg, cinnamon and clove – and a subtle hint of fennel, here’s an example of truffle contributing to a cheese’s personality, rather than overwhelming it, which can often be the case. Pair Sottocenere with Bittersweet’s Fleur de Sel bark, a slab of dark chocolate covered in sea salt, for an exercise in self-restraint: The salty chocolate brings out the spices in the cheese, balancing the truffle and offering a complex experience that conjures memories of everything from my mother’s Easter ham to a single biscotti I ate about 15 years ago. On their regular menu, St. James Cheese Company also offers a Chocolate and Cheese board, a rotating selection of Mexican chocolate and cheese pairing. In addition, they have chocolate covered figs and various other gourmet sweets for sale. Bittersweet Confections’ “chocolate boutique” is actually located in a quiet section of Canal Street, where Mid-City meets Lakeview. Housemade marshmallows, lemonade, cupcakes, pecan clusters, various chocolate barks – try the cherry and pistachio dark chocolate – accompany a case filled with macaroons, salted caramels, and truffles including a Bananas Foster as well as a Sazerac flavor (alcohol included). Behind the counter, pastry chefs create these amazing confections and beautiful custom cakes. Strawberries dipped in tempered chocolate are another house perfection. Accompanied with a dollop of Crème Fraiche, they’re a refreshing summertime treat.
At Blue Frog chocolates, you can substitute your cheese and chocolate pairing, for something even more indulgent – Zapp’s potato chips covered in dark chocolate. Try the Crawtators flavor; it sounds weird, but the salty Creole seasoning on the chip balances the sweet dark chocolate in a euphoric way you haven’t achieved since that yoga class you stopped taking – it’s OK, National Yoga Month isn’t until September. Blue Frog is home to a walloping array of sweets. Candy favorites such as marzipan, pralines, nonpareils and Swedish fish cozy up to stuffed animals and an array of serving plates and stylish gift boxes. There are even chocolate rocks – colorful, crisp and shiny enough to pass as an exotic aquarium filler. I even spotted a chocolate thong – quite literally a gag gift. Chocolate-covered gummy bears are worth the cavities – the chocolate lends a creaminess to the gummies that creates a softer, marshmallow-like texture, smarter than your average bear. Cases of handmade confections tease the eye. The lemon bark is reminiscent of those sinful little lemon Girl Scout cookies. And chocolate-covered orange peels simply beg to be paired with a nutty sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees, like Ossau Iraty or the herbaceous Corsican cheese, Fleur Du Maquis, a gently soft sheep’s milk cheese cloaked in rosemary.