Chocolate & Cheese: The Perfect Pair for V-Day

Valentine’s Day is soon (read: two weeks!), so now’s as good a time as any to start thinking about your V-Day plans. Maybe you’ve got romantic plans out, or maybe you’re having a sweet night in, but we know there should be one thing involved: chocolate. Being cheesy experts ourselves, we think cheese goes with everything, and chocolate is no exception. While you might not think these sweet and savory delights go together, we’re here to prove you wrong. 

Roomano & Raaka Bourbon Cask Bar

Something about this decadent, aged Gouda just begs for something sweet. Its notes of caramel and sweet-salty butterscotch usually are paired with a nice glass of scotch and whiskey, but if you’re looking to add a little sweetness, the Raaka Bourbon Cask bar is the way to go. The dark virgin chocolate is enhanced with the flavors of aged bourbon, with bright notes of spicy rye, vanilla, and caramel. Since we know like goes with like, these two were just meant to be.

Persille de Rambouillet & Murray’s Munchies Milk Chocolate Grahams

Blue cheeses and chocolate always go together – they’re like a couple of high school sweethearts! But Persille de Rambouillet is like the head cheerleader – popular, smooth, and sweet. The Alpine goats milk that goes into this blue creates clean lactic notes, with hints of white pepper and sweet cream. It’s that sweet cream and gentle piquancy that makes the chocolatey crunch of Murray’s milk chocolate covered graham crackers all the more delightful. (Hint: you might even want to spread the cheese directly onto the chocolate chunks. It’ll blow your mind!)

Pleasant Ridge Reserve & Pralus Dark Chocolate Infernal Bar

Summer pasture fed cow’s milk, with hints of floral, fruity flavors, Pleasant Ridge Reserve has those bites of sweetness we love. Like the Alpine cheeses it is inspired by, it goes great with a dark chocolate. We love it with the dark chocolate Infernal bar from Pralus Chocolatier, where the chocolate is fruity and deep and filled with toasty hazelnuts. We’re talking a match made in heaven, if we’re being honest – and it sure is heavenly.

Up in Smoke & Mast Brothers Chocolate Stumptown Coffee Bar

Sultry smokiness paired with roasty coffee – honestly, what can be better? With a ball of fresh goat’s milk cheese wrapped in maple leaves and then smoked, there’s a deep, campfire-y richness and clean minerality that reminds us of smelling cooking bacon in the morning, but sweet. Add your cup of coffee or make it a mocha with the chocolate bar from Mast blended with freshly roasted coffee beans, and this is exactly what you’ve been looking for. Our taste buds have heart eyes.

Who’s Afraid of IPA’s?

Kevin Brooks is a cheesemonger and self-proclaimed beer geek. This Saturday he’ll be leading a seminar at the Craft Beer Festival in NYC. The beers in this post are all available at Murray’s on Bleecker Street.

IPAs are intimidating.

It’s true. Big, strong and intensely bitter, IPAs are the beer that lets hops shine. Stinking of citrus and pine, they explode on the palate and, if you’re not used to it, they can really scare you off. I remember once in my callow youth when I left most of a pint of Sierra Nevada sitting on the bar, possibly thinking, “that was gross, it probably went bad.” Oh foolish past me!

The granddaddy of IPAs was developed in Burton on Trent in the 1800s. At the time, the British were having difficulties delivering beer to colonies in India.  A long hot sea voyage wasn’t good for the beer, and it was arriving spoiled and useless. Knowing of hops’ preservative qualities and that a stronger beer would be better suited to the trip, brew masters upped the amount of hops they added to the beer, resulting in a strongly bitter brew. It was pale ale destined for India, so they called it India Pale Ale, or an IPA. The name stuck.

There is a massive range of flavors and aromas in the world of hops, and brewers continue to find new ways to unlock ever more bitter and intense brews. Dry-hopping, wet-hopping, hop backs, double hopping, continuous hopping, bar-side hop infusers, all working to wrest more flavor and aroma out of this humble flower. Some hops are added for bitterness, some for flavor, some for aroma, and different kinds of hops are added at different parts of the boil. It’s all very involved.

To ease into the world of hops, I’ve selected three beers that raise us up through levels of intensity. So starting off we have an English IPA, Coniston Brewery’s Bluebird Bitter. English IPAs are milder than their American cousins; they’re hopped less, and English hops are milder, more floral, and less assertive than American hops. They also have cute names like Fuggle. Bluebird stands as a very drinkable, well balanced ale with a sweet backbone, lovely floral aromas, and light bitterness. I like this one paired with a mellow English cheddar with a similarly silly name, Tickler Cheddar!

Next up was an emblematic American IPA, Green Flash’s West Coast IPA. American hops tend to be more towards the piney and citric side of things, and American brewers tend to throw a whole lot more of them into the kettle, making for much bigger, more hop forward beers. The West Coast IPA smells like fresh cut grapefruits in the middle of a pine forest, while the flavor is big and citrusy, but still balanced, with a lingering bitterness to let you know what you are drinking. It’s also a touch stronger, at 7.2% abv, so be warned. For cheese picks, this is amazing with the hops-coated Cavemaster Reserve Hudson Flower.

And now for the bitterest of the bitter, an Imperial IPA. Imperial is a bit of a buzzword in brewing these days, and generally just means “more”, as in “more hops, more booze, more flavor.” Southern Tier’s Unearthly Imperial IPA is no joke, and one of my favorites. Enormously bitter, but with a big malt backbone supporting it, making for an eye-watering, yet still drinkable beer. But Murray’s doesn’t have the standard Unearthly; we carry the Oak Aged Unearthly, which has spent the better part of a year chilling in an oak barrel.

What a difference a year (trapped in a barrel) makes! As beer ages, hop flavor and aroma is the first thing to fade. First the aromas fade to nothing, then the flavors dwindle, leaving behind just the characteristic bitterness. The Oak Aged Unearthly has mellowed out considerably. No piney, no citrus, just a big chewy bitterness that isn’t overwhelming. And when you take a big, balanced IPA and remove the hop character, you’re left with a big, sweet, malty beer. The level of caramelly sweetness is really surprising, and so is how well it pairs with some Mast Bros. Sea Salt chocolate. Who would have thought you could drink an IPA with dessert?

Are IPAs intimidating? Sure. But as with anything else, if you give it half a chance, you’ll find some real pleasant surprises in there.