Wine + cheese and beer + chocolate make for perfectly harmonious marriages…but why not switch things up and give chocolate + cheese a try? Those who abstain from booze—or just prefer dessert tastings over wine pairings or beer flights—are in for a decadent treat with this rich and robust duo. Luckily, New York City is filled with the best curd and cocoa shops, offering exquisite tastes that go way beyond grocery-store Gouda and candy-aisle chocolate bars. We scoured downtown Manhattan to find four pairs of indulgent, compatible nibbles that are worth salivating over.
Chocolat Moderne + Beecher’s Handmade Cheese
Sometimes the best chocolate tastings are right under your nose, as is the case with Chocolat Moderne’s somewhat-hidden ninth-floor showroom in the Flatiron neighborhood (27 West 20th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues). After an exclusive private tasting with the owner’s husband, Jim, I decided on challenging my palate with the Avant-Garde, a white chocolate filled with an unexpected mix of passion fruit caramel and a hint of cardamom.
For the cheese, I wanted to go with something subtle that allowed these unusual tasting notes to shine. I nearly stumped the ’mongers at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese (900 Broadway at East 20th Street) with this request; they’d never been asked to attempt a passion fruit pairing before. After a few minutes of brainstorming, they felt confident with Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam, a triple-cream soft cheese reminiscent of a buttery Brie. While it initially has a subdued taste of button mushrooms, the lingering saltiness actually brought out more of the spice elements I didn’t first recognize in the chocolate. Tasting crisis averted.
Royce’ + Murray’s Cheese
I was a woman on a mission when I walked into Royce’ (253 Bleecker Street between Cornelia and Carmine Streets), an ultra-luxe Japanese chocolate boutique: Give me something that tastes like, as they say, “How Japan does chocolate.” The shop owner asked two simple questions in reply: “Dark or milk chocolate?” and “For yourself or a crowd?” I’m selfish, so naturally I wanted a dark nibble that I could hoard for myself. He handed me a sample of the signature bitter Nama, a rich, handheld bite of ganache coated in cocoa powder that practically melted at the touch of my tongue and left a strong aftertaste of Hennessy.
To complement that sublime splash of sweet cognac, the cheesemonger across the street Murray’s Cheese (254 Bleecker Street between Morton and Leroy Streets) recommended its Cavemaster Reserve Annelies. The Swiss-based cheese had an elongated, nine-month stay inside the shop’s alpine caves based in Long Island City; sitting around helps the cow’s milk curd develop undertones of hazelnut and butterscotch. If that doesn’t pair perfectly with Henny’s natural caramel aftertaste, I don’t know what does.
Roni-Sue + Saxelby Cheesemongers
Lower East Side
You know the old adage “Never judge a book by its cover”? Evidently, I never learn; that’s precisely what I did when I strolled into Saxelby Cheesemonger‘s compact stand inside Essex Street Market (120 Essex Street between Rivington and Delancey Streets) looking for the perfect block of cheese. A lengthy consultation in the form of sampling half a dozen soft and hard cheeses inevitably led my taste buds into the arms—er, rind—of Vermont Shepherd’s Invierno, a pleasantly sour firm cheese made from a blend of cow’s and sheep’s milk. The Green Mountain State’s long, cold winters allows the cheese to hibernate, giving it time to develop nutty, somewhat citrusy undertones that reminded me of a rich slice of pecan pie.
Thankfully, Roni-Sue has encapsulated the heady, buttery pecan pie flavors, with notes of molasses and bourbon, in a chocolate ganache truffle. I’d recommend buying yourself a handful at its flagship (148 Forsyth Street between Rivington and Delancey Streets) and enjoying the great Lower East Side outdoors in the shop’s urban-chic backyard garden.
Vosges + French Cheese Board
My writer’s salary can’t afford me a spur-of-the-moment trip to Gay Paree anytime soon, but at least I can treat my taste buds to a much-deserved staycation at French Cheese Board (41 Spring Street between Mulberry and Mott Streets). The sleek gourmet boutique also acts as a culture lab, hosting cooking demos, pairing sessions, and private classes. I was greeted with an impromptu lesson in French fromage, from the quintessential Camembert to the more challenging Comté. I eventually chose the layered Bleu d’Auvergne, a pungent bite with hints of sautéed portobellos and grass. (If this were a savory-slanted article, I’d turn this crumbly curd into a condiment for buffalo wings.)
Wanting to highlight the wild taste of greenery, I settled for a chocolate also in touch with its natural side. Vosges Haut-Chocolat (132 Spring Street between Wooster and Greene Streets) is most prominently known for its out-of-the-box approach to chocolate; recent whimsical concoctions have included a spice-tinged turmeric ginger bar and the exotic blood orange hibiscus caramel marshmallow. It was the subdued hints of floral coming from the pecan + bee pollen caramels, though, that caught my sweet tooth’s attention. Pardon my bad pun, but this perfect pairing was something I was buzzing about for the rest of the day.