Since Valentine’s is just behind us and you might have some chocolate lying about, I thought I’d focus my first post upon this unique pairing: chocolate & cheese. In fact, just a few years ago, Trader Joe’s was selling a delicious english cheddar with ribbons of chocolate mixed in, but as much as I loved it, it ended up in their product graveyard, as so many of their specialty items that I adore do.
Thankfully, Murray’s, a local cheese shop in NYC, has put together some yummy new combos of my two favorite snacks. Their new munchies line includes bars of chocolate meant to be shared alongside particular cheeses.
The first set I tried was a salty caramel square with the recommended gouda. My gouda was smoked, not aged, but it still paired quite well.
Lately, I have taken to buying large hunks of this smoked gouda, grating it all, and mixing it with mayo and pimientos for that special Southern spread: “mentacheese”*. The smokiness in the gouda lends a bacon-like quality to the sandwich. My thanks to Grapes & Beans in Clayton, Georgia for turning me on to this twist on an old favorite.
The next pairing was a coffee-infused chocolate with that “king” of cheeses: Parmigiano Reggiano! Though I have Italian roots, I was raised far from the boot or its D.O.P. formaggi, so my childhood experience with this cheese was via its snaggle-toothed sixth cousin, a mild powdery nastiness shaken out of a green can. And if you’ve ever wondered why that stuff tastes more like cardboard than cheese, it’s because it’s got wood pulp (cellulose) in it!
Anyway, years later, I was shocked to watch an Italian mamma slice large chunks off a real Parmigiano half wheel and hand them over to her rather picky four year old son, who would greedily devour them. By this point, I had happily made the conversion from parmesan to Parmigiano, but to treat the cheese as I do cheddar, slicing, or rather chipping off chunks and eating it whole?… well, folks, these days, I’m just like li’l Marco. Anytime I cut off some Parmigiano for the grater, oops, a few extra shards just have to been eaten whole.
As you can see, my cheese and chocolate appetizer was followed by a plate of pasta, liberally sprinkled with the good stuff. And now, perhaps it’s time for a bit more chocolate to round out the flavor of this royal cheese?
While fancified versions of pimiento cheese do exist and you are certainly welcome to try them out, at its roots, this Southern spread is an easy pantry concoction.
1. Grate a hunk of sharp cheddar cheese (or smoked gouda, or any hard cheese with robust flavor).
2. Simultaneously, mix in enough mayonnaise to make it sticky (I like mine on the less-is-more mayo side but my Uncle John’s version is swimming in the white stuff) and at the same time, open a small jar of pimientos (I go for the diced over the sliced), drain the juices, and then mix them into your cheesy-mayonnaise (or mayonnaisey-cheese) mixture.
Once the spread is ready, put it on whatever bread, crackers, chips or whatever you have on hand that can serve as transport to your mouth. I am personally a big fan of toasting some bread and then smearing it with “mentacheese”. It’s also a great add-on to a burger, in place of that traditional wimpy slice of American (not)cheese.
Eat up, y’all!