When we think of chocolate, we think of a sumptuous dessert soufflé or a rich tart. So, I was very curious when I heard about a dinner with chocolate used as an ingredient for savory food. This dinner was one of the events this past October at the Salone del Gusto, which is organized by Slow Food every other year in Torino, Italy. Intrigued, I immediately signed up.
I had the wonderful opportunity of driving to the event with Jean Lhéritier who is the president of Slow Food France, and Frédéric Trebillac, a winemaker and owner of La Rectorie à Banyuls vineyard. Frédéric had the challenge of pairing the wines and ultimately decided on Collioure Rosé 2003, Collioure Coume 2002, Maury 2002, and Banyuls 2003.
Frédéric comes from a three-generation winemaking family. His father told him not to become a winemaker because it was such a tough business, so he trained as a pastry chef and specialized in chocolate at the Valrhona school. After a few years in this career, he changed his mind and decided to take over the family business. As it turned out, this dinner was a perfect combination of his two backgrounds. What better person to pair chocolate to wine than a chocolatier turned winemaker!
We dined in the cozy stone cellar of a villa built for a king’s mistress, on the royal grounds of a historic estate. I visited the kitchen, and was impressed by bubbling pots of chocolate sauces, fish stock, and butter. The three chefs came from the heart of ROUSSILLON, and were all friends. The dinner was relaxed and comfortable, the conversation pleasant, the wine pairings interesting, but I must say that the high point was the fabulous food. The presentation was beautiful but unfortunately my photos were blurry. We started with calamari stuffed with vegetables and cocoa nibs followed by monkfish in an orange, saffron, and cocoa sauce.
But the highlight of the meal was a magnificent dish, perhaps one of the best and most surprising in my life, which is saying a lot. It was a risotto with cocoa and the blend of flavors was almost indescribably complex. The risotto was dark brown and smooth. It was served with roasted pigeon in a rich red wine sauce with épices douces (a subtle blend of ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom) – a fitting complement to the risotto. Dessert was a perfect chocolate-molten cake. I have adapted a simpler version of the risotto recipe for you, substituting duck confit for pigeon:
For 4 servings
Please note that you must taste after adding the cocoa to check for a balance of flavors. Because this recipe does not use parmesan, make sure that you season accordingly.
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You might think that this meal would be enough to satisfy my cocoa cravings. After all, I had attended a chocolate-tasting workshop the day before. Yet what a nice surprise it was when I happened upon the Scharffen Berger stand the next day. As you know, I have been recommending their products for a long time. Co-owner Robert Steinberg is, among other things, involved in a socially conscious chocolate project in Ecuador endorsed by Slow Food. The Ecuadorian in the photo displays the most native of all chocolates.
On the fourth day I signed up for a tasting workshop called The Renaissance of Cheese (Raw Milk America). I was particularly interested in this and I’m pleased to share with you my delightful discoveries.
Every workshop depends on the personality of the leader. Once, at a workshop on water, of all things, I fell asleep because it was so dry. This one was interactive, fun, and snappy. Jeff Roberts, from Cow Creek Creative Ventures, was the workshop leader. Coincidentally, I had met him five years ago at the cookbook store where I used to work when he came to buy books on cheese making. Jeff began the workshop by reminding us that cheese in the United States has a 400-year-old history. The English and Germans brought their own cows and hard cheese traditions to preserve their milk. In 1850, the industrial process of cheese was invented, but by 1900 most small producers had disappeared. Italians and Germans continued to make artisanal cheeses as an exception. After WWII, Americans rediscovered raw-milk cheeses from tourist travel to France and Italy. Hippies moved back to the farms and artisanal cheeses saw a resurgence in the 1960s. Today, interestingly, most small cheesemakers in America are women.
The cheeses were paired with American ciders and beers, and I must say, there was something very touching about these small producers from the largest country in the world. They were all very humble and modest, very grassroots, small-scale and down-to-earth.
We were brought an assortment of cheeses. Some were better than others. In the end, I had three favorites. The first was Mont St. Francis, a moist, fruity, sweet goat cheese from Greenville, Indiana. The second, Berkshire Blue from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, was a creamy blue cow cheese, and more mellow than most blues. The third, a cow cheese called Constant Bliss from Greensboro, Vermont, was close in flavor to the French Saint-Nectaire, with a strong grassy smell. It was rustic and nutty, mild yet flavorful.
These cheesemakers have a limited production, but I am sure you will be interested in them. [UPDATE: The phone number for Berkshire Cheese Makers and the web address for Winchester Cheese was incorrect when I originally posted this page. They have been corrected below]:
Mont St, Francis, Capricole Inc – email@example.com
Berkshire Blue, Berkshire Cheese Makers – 413-528-9529
Boere Kaas Super Aged Gouda, Winchester Cheese Company
Constant Bliss, Jasper Hill Farm – firstname.lastname@example.org
Perdido, Sweet Home Farm – email@example.com
Weston Tomme, Woodcock Farm – firstname.lastname@example.org
The ciders and beers we had with the cheeses were quite good as well and I have listed them below:
Raison d’Etre, Dogfish Head Brewery – www.dogfish.com
Organic Brown Ale, Wolaver’s Brewery – www.wolavers.com
Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewery – www.stonebrewery.com
Farnum Hill Semi-Dry Cider Still, Poverty Lane Orchards – email@example.com
Cyderworks Sparkling Cider, Ford Farm – firstname.lastname@example.org
Black Chocolate Stout, Brooklyn Brewery – Goliver@brooklynbrewery.com
All in all, it was a fantastic visit, and I am already planning to return for my third Salone del Gusto in two years.