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!