Holidays, Pairings, Recipes

Dark chocolate bark with Grana Padano & pink peppercorn for your Valentine

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Valentine’s Day is an intersection of cheesiness. Yes, there’s the metaphorically-cheesy love you forever-ness and pandas holding candy hearts (okay, no, even commercialized pandas are adorbs), but cheese itself is also gussied up for a romantic meal. Fondue? Baked Brie? C’MON.

Melty cheese is an obvious gimme, and make no mistake, I will be roastin’ up an oversized hunk of Brie this evening with all the trimmings. But, if I may, cheese shouldn’t be limited to the main event. It’s also an unexpected, welcome twist to dessert.

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Enter my dark chocolate bark, studded with sweet, salty, crumbly Grana Padano.

Now, hold your pitchforks, ye suspicious souls. Have you ever had dark chocolate with sea salt? (If the answer is no, run out immediately. I’ll wait.) Well, dark chocolate crumbled with salty cheese is even better, like sea salt’s sexy, hipster cousin.

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I was first introduced to the combo by Nadège, a heaven-on-earth bakery and treat shop in Toronto. They’re known for their macarons, but they also have a line of “chocolate tablets” marked with all the letters of the alphabet. Each letter represents a surprise, unexpected ingredient, and their “P” bar has parmesan! It’s amazing.

So when I thought about what to make for my Valentine – best guy ever, and an excellent excuse to tuck into something cheesay – I decided to put my own spin on the chocolate-cheese bar.

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It isn’t the first time I’ve tried. And if you remember correctly, the last experiment did not go so well. But I got some sage advice from MasterChef Canada judge Claudio Aprile himself when I told him of my failed chocolate-bocconcini truffles at a work event: “Try a hard, old cheese next time.”

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I started with the cheese (as one does, duh). Parmigiano-Reggiano would do nicely, but Grana Padano sat up to greet me so nicely in the cheese case that I changed my mind. As a borderline-fetishist of bold, tangy, hard cheeses, it’s one of my ol’ faithfuls.

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It’s sweeter than Parmigiano-Reggiano, with a nutty fruitiness that pairs nicely with the shots of saltiness that hit you at the tip of your tongue, and a sour bitterness that fills your cheeks with floating crystals after a few crumbly chews.

Salt on chocolate is like a red rose on Valentine’s: a classic, no-fail pairing. But the sweet-saltiness of Grana Padano with the layered bitterness of dark chocolate? That’s like a bird-of-paradise dangling next to a steaming hot cup of espresso in bed.

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Mmmmmmhmm.

But why stop there? To complete the trifecta – sweet/salty-bitter/spice-ay – I added some pulverized pink peppercorns. I’ve talked at length about my fascination with pink peppercorns here before, and the light, citrusy spiciness was a perfect addition to the bark.

Plus, it’s pink! Hi hello, Valentine’s Day!

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This was dead-simple to make. If you’re feeling nurturing, here’s how to whip it up.

1.Start with about two bars of the best dark chocolate you can find. 75% or higher.

2. Put it in a double-boiler (that’s a bowl over a pot of boiling water – I didn’t have a heatproof bowl on hand, so I MacGyver’d a Pyrex in a strainer) and stir until melted.

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3. Pour the melted chocolate over a baking sheet or a few layers of folded tinfoil in an even layer.

4. Immediately sprinkle crushed pink peppercorns (you can smash them in a zipper bag if you’re feeling dexterous, but I used a mortar and pestle) and crumble Grana Padano on melted chocolate.

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5. Lay flat in fridge to cool. Once hardened, break into bite-sized bark deliciousness.
Optional: If you’re a chocoholic, repeat the chocolate-melting step and drizzle onto the cooled layer to build on the chocolate.

6. Receive grateful kisses; enjoy!

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Entertaining, Holidays, Pairings

Move over, Guinness: Beau’s Beer Washed Cheese is ripe for St. Patrick’s Day

Okay, the headline was a little aggressive, but c’mon, it’s not like Guinness is gonna be sitting home alone on St. Patty’s. I love a cheese made with stout as much as the next person, and there’s a place in our hearts on St. Patty’s, too. But I recently discovered Beau’s Abbey Style Beer Washed Cheese, and that’s my draft pick for St. Patrick’s Day. Here’s why, for six simple reasons:

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1. It’s prettier.
Sorry, did you think I was going to start with taste? We all know cheese freaks (ahem) will munch anything that can no longer be considered milk in good conscience, but if you’re buying for a group, odd blocks streaked with brown require a bit more convincing. But Beau’s looks joyfully by-the-book and won’t raise a single eyebrow when it’s suggested as a snack.

2. Its flavour is more versatile.
See, I was getting to it. Stout cheese is delicious on its own and is likely to make a stronger impression (for better or worse), but doesn’t pair as well as Beau’s. One of the first thoughts I had when tasting it was that it would be a natural fit for fondue. What’s that? Everyone wants to hang out around your party snack while the mini meatballs get cold? I thought as much.

3. Beau’s is an Everyman.
It will please both cheese neophytes that aren’t sure about anything outside of a Black Diamond label, and seasoned curd lovers that will wax poetic about the delectable rind and surprise crystals.

4. Its little holes can masquerade as clover.
Just tell your tipsy guests to squint harder.

5. It’s equally good refrigerated or room temp.
I prefer room temp, but that isn’t always realistic if you need to chop up more in a hurry (which you will, see #3). You do you, sweet sugar.

6. It’s made with beer.
And not the kind you need to work up to with a pregame grimace and jokes about chest hair at the ready. Emerald-green mic drop.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Share your St. Patty’s snack picks, cheesy or otherwise, in the comments below or tweet me @xCheeseTheDay!

Beaus cheese with wine

I had my Beau’s chunk with some icewine last week for a little alcohol cross-pollination and it was just dandy. No rules on St. Patty’s, kids!

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Cheesy musings, Holidays

What’s new and vintage and all-around cheesy?

Um, that vaguely-jokey headline, for starters. (Shh.) But if your second guess was my new home, you’re absolutely right!

It’s been three weeks, more dollars on storage boxes than I’m willing to accept (seriously, IKEA?!) and one trip to St. Lawrence market, and I’ve just about settled in… to my new backwards front-door lock. If you can settle in completely at a new place in three weeks, I probably hate you.

I have two sharp knives and enough dishes to host two people in good conscience, but my place is fully decked out for Christmas. After all, forced merriment and the whirlwind pressure (social, familial and internal) of the holidays come but once a year. Disorganization – well, that’s a patient guest, if you keep inviting it back. See you in January, shelving, I have more important things to do, like creating a miniature Whoville:

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If you’d like to purchase mini Who houses to help me pay off my storage boxes, please note I am now accepting orders for December 2015. (Half-serious.) I accept cash and Délice de Bourgogne. A whole Who village is going to run you some truffle-assed Brie.

But the best new addition yet: St. Lawrence Market (voted the best food market in the world by National Geographic, if you’re not familiar) is a five-minute walk away. I had planned to pay proper reverence to my first visit in a separate post, but then I got caught up in eating all the things I bought and housewarming and holiday shopping and fa la la la la.

I went to my usual cheese haunt, Scheffler’s, and decided it’d be an all-new cheese cast, in honour of my all-new place. I asked the guy behind the counter which of the hard cheeses was his favourite. (If you ever want to stop cheese people in their tracks, ask this question.) He immediately pointed me to Highland Chief, a cheddar made with single-malt whiskey, because it’s only available this time of year (oh, and it’s sinfully indulgent). With a few more recommendations and more than a few samples, I had my lineup.

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  • Highland Chief with Single Malt Whiskey
  • Uniekaas Vintage 3 Year Old Gouda
  • Oak Manor Vintage Cheddar
  • Le Rang Des Iles

Notice a pattern? Why the “vintage” tags, cheesemongers? I get calling clothes “vintage,” because “old” subconsciously signifies lesser quality (although I don’t think that’s true). But we’ve established that the older the cheese, the stronger the flavour, right? That can only be a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. Side note: Three years does not a vintage make, non?

While I’m tempted to split hairs further over the use of the term “vintage” to label cheese, I’m going to leave it there. As a hawker of all things cheesy, I have to throw my support behind the use of an inappropriate, whimsical description.

What do you think of calling a cheese “vintage”? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @xCheeseTheDay!

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