Typical Tuesday night at 6pm. Silently whining about how dark it is already and the fact that I forgot my umbrella…again. Per usual I am stressing out about the million little things I have to do this week as well as spazzing over what I am going to do with my life.
But then I get a text.
My friend had put us on the waitlist for a Cheese and Chocolate Tasting at the reknowned French Boston restuarant, L’Espalier, and he had just received a call that we have been taken off the waitlist. And…the event starts at 7pm. Initially I start to text back “no” just because I “think” that I don’t have time. But then I stop walking and mentally give myself a little slap. CHEESE? CHOCOLATE? Who in their right mind would turn down two of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. Needless to say, 5 minutes later I find myself sprinting up Comm. Ave in my Frye boots and my nerdy, over-sized backpack whipping from side-to-side. After literally the quickest shower of my life, 2.5 outfit changes, and a little mascara, I run back out into the night to meet my date at the T. And let out a sigh of relief.
When I finally plopped myself down into the plush chair and saw the menu, I knew I had made an excellent decision.
A menu planned around cheese and chocolate?? HOLLAAAA.
So here’s the deal: L’Espalier provided the cheese. Hotel Chocolat, a gourmet chocolate shop on Newbury Street, provided the chocolate. And I kindly agreed to provide the grumbling stomach.
Since my date and I are both under 21, we clearly could not partake in the accompanying wine tasting. However, we were hooked up with a “house-made juice tasting.” Our first juice was pineapple-jasmine:
And to accompany this lovely juice, was our first course: white chocolate arancini with fennel and lavender vinagrette. *swoon*
So how was it? Di-vine.
Arancini (singular: arancino) are kind of a new concept to me. Arancini are essentially balls of rice filled with mozzarella and either spinach or ragu, rolled in bread crumbs, and fried or baked until golden. I stumbled upon a recipe this past summer for arancini and immediately had to have one. Luckily, I ate an arancino for the first time at the St. Anthony festival in the North End. That one was served in a styrofoam bowl and was approximately the size of my fist. Of course I would eat arancini out of a dirty shoe, but it was interesting to see the contrast between the classic “red-sauce Italian” version of arancini and this refined no-larger-than-a-golf ball version. And it was filled with a white chocolate sauce to boot!
Next up was the second course: “Devils on Horseback” served with 70% dark cocoa powder.
“Devils on Horseback”??? Yes- this one-bite wonder consisted of a juicy date filled with gorgonzola and wrapped in prosciutto. Also in attendance was a perfectly-ripe fig and an amazing cocoa powder. This was the dish I was most anticipating simply because it includes a bunch of my favorite foods: dates, figs, and chocolate. I really loved how the bitterness of the dark chocolate highlighted the saltiness of both the prosciutto and gorgonzola.
This dish was paired with a delicious spiced apple cider.
The third, and technically final, course was a venison stew with goat cheese and foie gras butter and a smoked 90% dark chocolate cake .
Talk about decadent! I had actually been to L’Espalier a few weeks prior and had ordered venison, which was paired with a piece of bittersweet chocolate cake. This is an unexpectedly perfect combination. I adored both the hearty stew as well as the fact that I have found a new favorite flavor pairing. Venison itself has its own pronounced flavor but the bitterness and depth of the smoked chocolate is powerful enough to keep up.
Cranberry-orange fizz. What whhhaaatt.
And finally, the pièce de résistance…
1. Fourmes d’Ambert, cow, from Auvergnes, France with 65% Dark Organic from Alto El Sol Peru
2. Bonne Bouche, goat, Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, Websterville, VT with 70% Dark Chocolate with Chili
3. Heu Blumen, cow, Canton St Gallen, Switzerland with 65% Dark Chocolate, 120 hour conch*, from Saint Lucia
4. Cremont, goat, cow’s milk and cream, Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, Websterville, VT with 65% Dark chocolate, 96 hour conch, from Saint Lucia
5. Gouda, aged five years, cow from Holland with 40% Milk Chocolate
*According to my sources, conching is a process in which roasted cocoa beans are subjected to a rolling process known as conching. The original paddles that performed the rolling looked like conch shells, hence the name. This helps to eliminate much of the bitterness of the chocolate by incorporating air into the chocolate and thus neutralizing the naturally acidic pH of chocolate. It also improves the texture of the chocolate by removing any grittiness. Conching can be done for an extended period of time, anywhere from 4 hours to 120 hours, like one of the chocolates on my plate.
While I obviously adored all five pairings, my favorite was the second, the gooey goat cheese with the 70% dark chocolate with chili. The fact that this piece of chocolate was in the shape of a PENGUIN didn’t hurt either.
I appreciated the opportunity to taste cheese and chocolate in two ways: in dishes that combined the two with other fabulous ingredients, as well as a more focused taste that allowed me to notice the subtle flavors of both the cheese and the chocolate. I would take a bite of the cheese and then a bite of the chocolate in order to savor how one entity highlighted the other.
By the end of the night, both my busy mind and hungry stomach had been quelled, thanks to the wonders of cheese & chocolate.