Holidays, Pairings, Recipes

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


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.



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!


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.


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.


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!


Cheesy musings, Pairings, Recipes

Concocting cheese for dessert and Buca on King

One of my favourite parts of my day job is getting to interview the MasterChef Canada competitors. While talking to top-5 home cook Christopher Siu about food trends, he brought up a recent trip to Tokyo and how innovative the culture is with their sweets. It got me thinking – not for the first time – about cheese for dessert.

I don’t mean a cheese board. Although that’s always welcome, I don’t see it as dessert, really, because the same spread would be at home during any course. Plus, I don’t want to wait for the end of the meal to dig into the cheese. I digress.

No, I mean cheese as part of a sweet dessert. After talking to Christopher, I started dreaming up ways to make cheese the centrepiece. First, I thought of a mascarpone parfait. I’d layer it with caramelized grapefruit and burnt toffee. I have no idea if those flavours would even go together, but my brain got real friendly with the idea, real fast. Then, further down the caramelizing route, I thought of flambéing halloumi, which, let’s be honest, is just a hilarious thought. But why not?

I settled on my third idea as a less out-there gateway dessert: bocconcini truffles.

Bocconcini truffle

If you’re thinking that bocconcini is too delicate a cheese to compete with semi-sweet chocolate, congratulations, you are two steps ahead of me! I had a bit of doubt but wanted to give it a go, anyway.

I soaked the bocconcini in buttermilk before turning it into a truffle, hoping it would add a touch more depth of flavour. It didn’t, but that’s why we do these drills! Right, kids? Then I popped them in the freezer for a spell so they wouldn’t get too melty during their chocolate bath.

Bocconcini truffle

Before making my chocolate, I did a quick jog on Google to see if anyone had already attempted a bocconcini truffle and succeeded more than I anticipated I would. Unsurprisingly, there were no bocconcini chocolate truffle recipes. But that did not deter me. No, that only made me think I must be onto something reeeeeally original.

Next was chocolate. I melted semi-sweet chocolate chips with butter and maple syrup. Then I speared each cheesy little guinea pig on a fork, rolled them in as much chocolate as would stick (not much) and topped them with black lava salt I got in Iceland (which I figured would make it feel fancier, even if the experiment failed). It has the consistency of fleur de sel but isn’t as light.

Bocconcini truffle

I brought the truffles over to my friend (and #1 reader!) Christie’s, who gamely tried a few. We both agreed: not a great combo. Not a bad combo, but as I feared, the bocconcini’s delicate flavour was totally overwhelmed by the chocolate.

I’m not giving up on cheese and chocolate though – I know they’re delicious together, if only because Nadège did a much better job pairing the two in my favourite parmesan chocolate bar. I’ll try a saltier cheese next time.

Then I got my wish at Buca (which I accidentally oversold to another MasterChef Canada cook, nay, winner, David Jorge – sorry, buddy! You’ll understand why in a moment). I entered a new age “box” last week, and for my birthday, my mom and I went to the seriously-acclaimed restaurant’s King location. There was a cheese plate (pictured without much of the cheese, because you should never have to wait to dig in on your birthday), obviously.


The plate was jewelled with fresh buffalo ricotta, pecorino toscano and one of my all-time favourites, piave. Each was paired with a fruity partner: the ricotta with saskatoon berry (one of my favourite sidekicks), the pecorino with wine-soaked raspberries, and the piave with rhubarb.

Then it was time for dessert. I wanted something cool to offset the looming comatose fog rolling in, post-pasta with lobster (is there any better birthday dish?). Buca made all my wishes come true, even before I blew out the candle.


Gorgonzola gelato, topped with blueberries. Now that is how you do cheese for dessert.

I should have wished for the recipe. There’s always next year.

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:

Beaus cheese

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!

Flavour of the month, Pairings, Profiles

Flavour of the month: Black River Maple Cheddar

February is the suckiest month. My boyfriend sometimes makes the case for November: clearly the rambling of mal-adjusted soul that never fully knew autumn-induced joy and Santicipation (love you, honey!). After emerging bleary-eyed from a Polar-Vortex funk last year, I resolved to make plans, preferably hot ones, for this year.

Costa Rica, a bit pie-in-the-sky for our budgets, fell through. But the universe stepped in with two lucky opportunities, thanks to said boyfriend. First, a weekend work trip to Ottawa, on which I was invited to tag along. Almost immediately after, a week-long stint in Fort Myers Beach, squatting in the beach-side haven his parents rented for the suckiest month – air-kick!

Florida was a lot of ol’ faithful cheeses: melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella with tomato and basil and gooey cheddar crowning stuffed peppers. But our mini-break in Ottawa brought a new dairy love to my life: Black River Cheese’s Maple Cheddar. I’d seen it around the block many times, but had never bought it. That is, until I bought absolutely everything to eat.

Maple cheddar

Please accept my crude depiction of its components in lieu of the actual brick, which I obliterated. (Genevieve Howard/Compfight, J.P. Lon/Wikimedia Commons)

They say you should never shop when you’re hungry (not even for inedible things!), and we were living proof of that, headed to the grocery store to stock up on snacks having skipped dinner. We spent around $100 on “snacks” (for an army, I guess). Nestled in the spoils was Black River’s Maple Cheddar, to be paired with our crackers, or, y’know, eaten straight off the plastic knife with which we cut it.

Generally, cheese is not sweet. A lot of my favourites have sweet undertones (hay, Piave), but rarely is the overall impression more sweet than salty – which is why they’re usually so yummy with an accompaniment like jam. Not so with Black River’s.

The Maple Cheddar is a medium-aged cheese, so not too strong, which allows the maple syrup that it’s mixed with to really take the reins. It doesn’t have pure maple syrup’s bitterness or much of cheddar’s saltiness to create a more layered, deep flavour, so its powerfully-sweet impression won’t be for everyone (my boyfriend didn’t care for it, but he’s usually more of a salty/bitter guy – pun unintended but welcomed with a smirk). I, however, found it refreshingly soft and simple, and just devoured it.

Much like icewine is a true dessert wine, so does this cheese just scream dessert. Grilled cheese and cheese bread are two of the suggestions Black River makes for how to use it best, and I’d have to agree – bread would set off the sweetness while letting the cheese be the star. I’d tread carefully with any pairings. Common sidekicks like salty meats and antipasto would be too much, in my humble opinion. A lightly-smoked (not grainy) mustard would be interesting, or a Saskatoon berry jam (probably the only time I’ve ever wanted this specific jam, but I think its sorta-blueberry, sorta-apple lightness would be just right).

Honestly, though, it’s best left to its own devices, with just a little bit of bread. Suitable for both screw-you-February days and cuddled-up, what-month-is-it-anyway sojourns.

Cheesy musings, Pairings

Canada’s best restaurants 2014: A quick sniff at cheese offerings

EnRoute revealed its choices for Canada’s top 10 best restaurants of 2014 Thursday. The poetically-named Wolf in the Fog took the top spot, with restaurants dotted across a spread of the provinces (although the territories were absent; Yellowknife’s Trek Restaurant asked politely on Twitter whether the, uh, trek was made up north).

The descriptions of dishes woven throughout the restaurant profiles are as decadent as the flavours surely are. Although I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a single one – far from it – there are certain triggers that heighten my lust for a plate. Seafood (any and all kinds) is top of mind for me, but cheese, unsurprisingly, can and does shape my impression of a dish, even when it’s used in the most minute amount.

(Example: Usually I avoid salads at restaurants as they’re often easily assembled at home if I put in the effort. I ordered a salad at the restaurant I went to for my birthday on a trip to Thunder Bay this year because it had Thunder Oak Gouda in it – nevermind that it was a few cubes. I also had incredible seafood pasta, so not quite a sacrifice on my part.)

After careful menu-creeping, these are the restaurants whose subtle cheese-related offerings cut right through the hazy distinctions in decadence. (I tried to think of a different way to word this to use the phrase “cut the cheese” instead, but couldn’t make it work. Please share if you do.)

A chef after my own heart – look at that spread!  (Farmer's Apprentice/Facebook)

A chef after my own heart – look at that spread!
(Farmer’s Apprentice/Facebook)

Farmer’s Apprentice: Burrata with caramelized onions, flageolet beans and hazelnuts. If I created my own language, burrata would translate to “swoon.”

Le Vin Papillon: Roquefort paired with a rosé called You Are So Bubbly that EnRoute’s writer describes as tasting of “rhubarb and grass and burnt sugar.” Sorry, you lost me after Roquefort. There’s nothing quite like unaccompanied cheese (see ya later, crackers) serenaded by a perfectly-paired sweetness.

Rge Rd: Cheese fondue tart with braised leeks and baby greens (come again? I couldn’t hear you over my own panting). And the one that made me read its paragraph again and again in the profile, an apple galette with aged cheddar sauce. (It’s also accompanied by the cutest phrase ever in EnRoute’s profile, which I will now steal: “An apple pie without the cheese is like a hug without the squeeze.” It even rhymes!)

With any luck, I'll be elbow-deep (okay, not elbow, but wouldn't that be great?) in Italian cheese at these seats soon. (Bar Buca/Facebook)

With any luck, I’ll be elbow-deep (okay, not elbow, but wouldn’t that be great?) in Italian cheese at these seats soon.
(Bar Buca/Facebook)

Bar Buca: Buffalo crème anglaise with blood orange (okay, it’s the topping on a bread pudding, but I stopped reading after buffalo [dairy]). It doesn’t matter that it’s crème anglaise and not mozzarella, my mind goes to a happy place anyway, especially when it’s coupled with blood orange. It’s my cheese blog and I’ll fangirl over buffalo crème if I want to.

Légende: Des mains du fromager – it’s a standard cheese plate, oui, but as per my aforementioned taste for cheese “paired with sweetness,” I am already daydreaming about alternating bites from their cheese board with morsels of their maple syrup tart (which comes with a tiny milkshake, too!).

What did you think of the EnRoute’s rankings? If you had to choose, what would you crown as your favourite place(s) to eat in Canada? 

(Main image credit: Le Vin Papillon/Facebook)

Entertaining, Pairings

The perfect cheeses to welcome hockey back

In case you haven’t already been beaten over the head with it by media and jersey-wrapped fans, hockey is back tonight. As I write this, the Toronto Maple Leafs lead the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in my peripheral vision. I will not say anything about hoping it lasts, because it would be a likely jinx and I don’t need that on my conscience; also, my level of masochism isn’t quite high enough to be a true Leafs fan.  (Montreal just scored. Damn it, non-jinx attempt.)

I’ve always said that it’s impossible to be in a bad mood at a sports arena. The energy is infectious. But watching sports on TV takes a little more cajoling, and snacks are part and parcel of my engagement. Obviously, my munchies of choice always involve cheese, or even better, are just cheese with some accoutrements. I have a cheap and cheerful Brie du Marché by Alexis de Portneuf (who I just discovered make a number of my other favourite cheeses, pleasant surprise) waiting with some ginger jelly as we speak. It may not make it to my belly because of some unfortunate overdoing of dill Crispy Minis earlier, but that’s another story.

There is no bad cheese to serve with a side of hockey, but it’s always fun to tailor your cheese to what you’ll be serving it with – in this case, hockey. Chemical-laced ice and bloodied teeth don’t make for ideal mental images from which to draw inspiration, but the teams make it fun. I’m watching the Leafs and the Canadiens, so here are the cheeses I’d pick (if the majority of my friends weren’t at home with violent colds and flu and I were hosting instead of pigging out alone – ah, hockey season):

Embed from Getty Images

For the Toronto Maple Leafs:
There are cheeses that are made with maple syrup, but I have to admit, I haven’t tried many – just one. But man, is it a doozy. There is a little setup in Keene, Ontario, not too far from where I grew up but far enough to make it a special trip, called Cross Wind Farm. They specialize in goat milk and meat products and many of their chèvres are mixed with spices, fruits and more for melt-in-your-mouth spreads. My favourite by far is the Maple Syrup Chèvre (I’ve also had the Herbs de Provence and Orange and Cranberry). It’s obvious that they use real maple syrup from the tantalizing bitter edge to the sweetness, which complements the dry, salty sweetness of the cheese nicely. Plus, bittersweet is an apt way to describe Leaf fandom, to say the least.

If you’d like to show off a little more, you can never go wrong with a baked brie (try my aforementioned Brie du Marché for a good affordable option), especially one that incorporates maple syrup. I’d do it one of two ways: Use pure maple syrup instead of egg wash to seal your dough covering (sticky, but oh-so-much better) for a touch of sweetness, or cut the top of the rind off and drizzle it directly on top with gay abandon and a sprinkling of pecans before baking.

Embed from Getty Images

For the Montreal Canadiens:
Québec boasts no shortage of irresistibly smelly cheeses to sample. I have only been there a handful of times as an adult, but both times I made sure to try a few. When I visited my cousin during Winterlude last year (hi, Melissa!), she turned me onto La Sauvagine, one of Alexis de Portneuf’s. It has an noticeable yet accessible tang that will please both smelly cheese devotees and newbies alike. And the triple-cream texture, well – that speaks for itself.

To add a hard cheese to the roster, try Louis D’Or, arguably one of Canada’s most famous and  lauded smelly cheeses. When I first bought it on a trip to Montreal with my boyfriend, he complained that it made our whole hotel room smell like farts, even while safely tucked away in the mini-fridge, which it did. Still, it has the kind of vegetable-moldy flavour (think steamed broccoli) that you find more commonly in sheep’s milk cheeses. I can’t decide if I like this one more cold or room temperature, but if you’d like to ease into it, try it cold first.

The game’s still 2-2 and I have yet to bring out my Brie. My stomach is tied too, with fullness on one side and uh, Brie, on the other. That’s a whole other game.

Here’s to hockey, and more importantly, the cheese boards that viewing will bring.

(Main image: Coyau / Wikimedia Commons)

Entertaining, Pairings

New motherboard, new friends, new cheese. Trapiche?

Thought I’d gone on another perfectionist hiatus, didn’t you? Alas, this one was technologically-imposed. I finally got my computer back, after a hefty bill and wait. I don’t want to be a brat about how long the “straightforward” repair took, but I think empires may have fallen faster.

Before I had a chance to put my computer, complete with new motherboard, to good use over the weekend, I got strep throat and spent the better part of this week sending my immune system into battle instead of battling through the half-sentences in iPhone notes I took for the blog during my computer’s vacation.

Now that my antibiotics have kicked in, let’s have a catch-up. Pull up an armchair and some quince, will you?

Last week I got to attend a wine tasting with iYellow Wine Club, run by one of my favourite wine-os (don’t worry, Mom, you’re still number one), Angela Aiello. I always have a great time at her events, so I was looking forward to this one, which looked like a doozy: Sampling Trapiche‘s new wines Pure and Extravaganza, topped off with food pairings.

It’s the first time I had been to an event alone, much less with a cheese-blog agenda, so I wasn’t sure how to tackle the whole networking thing. After saying hi to Ang and the iYellow peeps I already knew, I received a hefty glass of the first wine to taste, Pure. Inspect the legs, check, smell, check, sip, check, repeat. Try to stop thinking about how Trapiche reminds you of Capiche? and repeating it in an Italian accent like a visual-cue earworm. Awkwardly glance around, hoping to catch the eye of someone else looking to converse with a fellow professional (none), check. Oh look, that woman is painting a plate.

Her name was Jacqueline, the resident artist at the Ritz. She paints all of the plates in the restaurant, some of which were displayed on the walls – there’s a little-discussed career path for you. She had the sort of friendliness that makes you wonder whether you actually do know the person, because people are generally not so warm toward complete strangers, but she was. A good start to my getting-to-know-you endeavour. Here’s how the plate turned out, which she finished in about an hour and change (!).


After my conversation with Jacqueline started to taper off, I began to play spot-the-willing-conversationalist again and landed on the man’s name-card next to me. His blog name had a pun (Hi Mario!). We were bound to be friends! Turns out, there’s no easy way to strike up a conversation when everyone else seems to know each other, you just have to power through the awkwardness. Before long, we were nerding out about cheese, him explaining proper names and locations for beloved rinds while trying to follow my vague, half-remembered characterizations, although I did manage to adequately describe Don Heliodoro. I am not an imposter!

From there it was smooth sailing, as he introduced me to some of the more seasoned wine writers and industry people in the room and I began to feel more well-connected. That, and I was well into my second glass (which did not bode as well for me when I tried to ascertain whether I was actually rocking back and forth on my heels during the winemaker’s speech or whether that was second-glass goggles).

The second wine tasting, of Extravaganza, was at iYellow’s Wine Cave. There were Venetian masks, frogs’ legs (au revoir, Michigan J.), duck tongue tacos (found that out after I finished, probably for the best) and cricket-studded chocolate donuts.


There was also, blissfully, a cheese plate.


Apparently, there was a “cheese room” at the Ritz that I missed in my nervous haste to connect with people (Never. Again), so to say that I was excited to see the spread would be an understatement. After I made a beeline to confirm the rumours, my reaction went like this:

One of the cheeses Mario and I had been talking about was even on the roster, Idiazabal. Score! Here were my notes on the offerings, three of which (all except the Camembert) I’d never had before:

– Very meaty
– Smokey (Wiki tells me the cheese is usually un-smoked though, interesting – anyone know which part of the process creates the smokey flavour, then, or is it the milk?)
– Like smoked kielbasa, minus the mandatory pickles and cheddar slices on a vegetable cracker at family gatherings
– Deliciously dry
– Full flavour with a touch of bitterness; rich

Bleu D’Auvergne
– Middle-range flavour – not quite as mild as a Bleu Benedictin but not as strong as Stilton
– Tasted faintly of fennel, but I tried this shortly after my duck tongue tacos (without cleansing my palate with quince first, I know, slap my wrist) so it could’ve been leftover hoisin flavour
– Creamy, mold wasn’t especially flavourful, which I liked

Old Amsterdam
– Deliciously salty
– Briny (it’s not exactly the same as salty, shut up)
– Lighter taste when it begins to crumble
– Strong buttermilk flavour and caramel taste, right at the finish

Camembert, that ol’ faithful
– Very grassy and buttery
– Just a touch of tanginess
– Reminds me unmistakably of broccoli (the prominent vegetable flavours were driving me nuts with vague recognition – that’s what it tasted like!)

There was also some quince jelly, which I mistook for sausage – it was dark – but  which complimented the Camembert and paired well with Old Amsterdam’s saltiness. I explained it to one of my newly-minted buddies with Fruit To Go as my reference. I can have my cheese and ’90s lunchtime staple comparisons and eat them, too, Trapiche?

How do you approach networking? Ever tried any of the above cheeses? Let me know in the comments or @xCheeseTheDay (brand new!) on Twitter. I’ll be catching up on belated Flavours of the Month next, and there’s a fancy domain coming, too!