Chocolate, like so many foods, encompasses a wide range of specimens that vary considerably in quality and price. While there’s nothing wrong with tearing open the iconic dark brown packaging of that Hershey’s milk chocolate bar from time to time, sometimes something a little more special is called for.
Wander into almost any conventional supermarket, and you’ll surely find an arsenal of bars that give the impression of something high-end. Some supermarkets even produce their own varieties of designer chocolate.
For moments when standard supermarket chocolate won’t suffice, there’s a nearly endless selection of products from independent chocolate producers. All are passionate about using the highest quality ingredients and creating unique flavor combinations that can border on the macabre.
One such producer is Vosgres Haut-Chocolate, and in case their name didn’t give it away, they specialize in high-end, exotic chocolate products. Founder Katrina Markoff is the definition of a hands-on owner; she selects every spice, fruit, cocoa variety and flavoring that goes into each bar, truffle and bonbon.
Markoff utilized her training at Paris’ Le cordon Bleu school of culinary arts and extensive world traveling to start the company in 1998. She now possesses an wide catalogue of bold creations featuring unexpected ingredients such as wasabi, absinthe and tumeric (not all in one bar).
During a recent trip to my local whole foods, I came across a bar of chocolate that provoked a tilt of the head and a glare of uncertainty: A dark chocolate bar accented with dried cherries and Spanish manchego cheese.
That’s right, someone decided to blend chocolate, cheese and cherries into one product. More specifically, she blended 12-month aged Spanish manchego with dried montmorency cherries into a bar of 67% dark chocolate.
Of course I bought some; the intrigue was unbearable. Plus, the package is so darn pretty. Eating chocolate of this caliber is always an experience, but was this an enjoyable one?
This is a bar that deals with three relatively intense flavors. Manchego, a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, has a granular texture and mildly salty zest due to aging. Montmorency cherries are quite tart, even more so when dried. The backdrop to these bold flavors is a comparably bold bittersweet chocolate with a relatively high cocoa bean content. It takes a skillful hand to combine these fine ingredients into one package while preserving the integrity of each.
It’s all about balance, and Markoff and her team achieved it. Choosing a chocolate with 67% cocoa was a smart choice. A darker chocolate would overwhelm the other components while a semi-sweet specimen with less than 50% cocoa wouldn’t jive very well with the complex, salty cheese.
The mildly bitter chocolate is the predominant flavor, with the slight tartness of the cherries and salty manchego asserting themselves later. Those concerned with the bar tasting like fermented dairy can rest assured that the manchego is a background flavor in this bar, and it’s manifested mostly as salt rather than as cheese. An extra dosage of manchego would actually be a welcome addition, as it’s difficult to appreciate all the nuances of the cheese when it’s used in such a small quantity.
Overall, the bar has a nice balance of bitter, salty and sweet; I just wish the manchego was a bit more present. 8/10
Like many high-ends chocolates, this bar has a smooth mouthfeel due to the presence of cocoa butter and proper tempering. It melts quickly, but it never feels greasy or waxy on the tongue.
The bits of cherries and cheese scattered about the bar are appropriately tiny, since nobody wants to chew on a nugget of cheese or a whole dried cherry after letting the chocolate melt in their mouth. These little bits are evenly scattered throughout the bar, and their size makes them easy to swallow.
The smooth, rich chocolate and the slight chew of the cherries and cheese are a winning combination. This is the type of bar that needs to linger in the mouth for as long as possible in order to fully appreciate the smooth mouthfeel. 8.5/10
Obviously, this is a bar meant exclusively for eating au naturale. Don’t even try baking with it, melting it or any other tomfoolery. The subtle flavors and textures will be lost, and you’ll quickly realize that an inexpensive bar from your local Hannaford would have been far more appropriate for such uses.
Instead, consume a couple squares in lieu of a plated dessert as a conclusion to a nice meal or fend off a stressful morning by popping a few morsels as a midday snack.
If you’re feeling giddy about gliding the lily, then pair it with some sliced pears or, odd as it sounds, a bit of fruity extra-virgin olive oil and roasted almonds. The bright oil and toasty nuts are a nice compliment to the bittersweet and salty flavors present in the bar. 7.5/10
The time and dedication to crafting this bar is evident after tasting just one square. The nicely balanced combination of flavors feels exotic, yet approachable, and while the idea of inserting cheese into a chocolate bar may seem gimmicky, the care and craftsmanship involved ensure that this is not the case.
While I found the Manchego to be rather hidden, it does fulfill the role of adding salt and earthiness to the package and the cherries contribute chew and fruity-tartness. This is a bar that forces you think about everything that’s happening in your mouth when you take a bite, and I love that. I look forward to trying more Vosgres Haut-Chocolat products. Their willingness to break free from the confines of tradition and experiment makes them a very exciting brand. 8/10
Total Score: 32/40