Pairing is an art. To be truthful we are still learning and training our palates to sense and create interesting pairings, I suspect this will be a lifelong journey. Even our chef and sommelier friends who are at the top of their game, still consider this one of the biggest culinary challenges.
Chocolate pairs with a wide range of flavours, many fermented food & drink in particular for their complexity and depth. Think of wine, whiskey, coffee, tea, sake, cheese, and even cigars.
Pairing is a lot like rhyming. While “tomato” rhymes with “potato”, they don’t make an interesting song together. Two words which don’t usually sound similar creating a new, novel, or surprising sound together is pleasing symmetry that our brains enjoy. Where do we look for this complexity? In the “notes” of a flavour.
Chocolate flavour profile map
In pairing, we are looking at the “small” notes which make up flavours. A complex flavour tends to be long lasting with a timeline of different experiences in your mouth. This feeling is subjective, personal and intimate.
In describing pairings we aim to find common ground among a group of tasters, although ultimately the experience is within one, and the words used are only an attempt to describe/express this intimate experience.
We are most familiar with notes from the wine world, they’re often used to describe a wine or printed on the bottle. While the wine will always taste like wine, its fermentation and ageing processes have yielded a wide range of compounds, some of which are present in other foods we enjoy. When our tongue senses them it evokes a memory, pulled out of our brain.
Each one of us has a lifetime of flavour and aroma memories and while the compounds in the wine are the same, the feelings and foods which come to our mind when tasting them are a personal experience. So next time you hear a wine has notes of “lemon, leather, and fungus”, as you taste it, look for notes within the flavour which remind you of the experiences of tasting these. You may instead find a specific food you loved in your childhood with one of these components, or one without them which shares the same molecules.
Classic pairing styles
Most sommeliers will tell you a successful pairing is one of three ways:
Matching: Two flavours which clearly share a common note, for example a particular wine and a particular cheese which both have grassy end-notes.
Contrasting: Two flavours in which one or several notes contrast each other, pulling your palate in different directions to a surprising, complete experience, or alternatively balancing each other to a happy medium. This type of flavouring is typical in Indian cuisine and is the reason these flavours feel so addictive. For example, think of the sweet of orange and the bitter of basil.
Enhancing/complementing: Two flavours in which one component or note sets the stage for a note in the other flavour, bringing it out “louder” than it would on its own, or making it more pleasant than on its own. For example coconut with lemongrass, or raspberry with timut pepper.
In Conspiracy Chocolate, we have our own approach to pairing. For example, we find it very gratifying, even addictive to pair contrasting flavours which also share a matching element. Think of mango with tamarind and lime. The three balance each other out with opposite ratios of sweet and sour, but the fruity-floral-fresh notes in their essential oils bring them closer together at the same time.
Another style of pairing we love in Conspiracy is one where the compounds in the two different foods, combined, give the impression of a third, familiar flavour. Bonus points granted where this new flavour pairs in one of the other styles with the two “main” flavours. This tends to mostly be achievable with complex fermented foods which come with a slow, long finish of different notes.
Are you hosting a pairing event, sharing your favourite wine/whiskey/etc with a friend or simply want to bring a tasteful pair to dinner or a gift? Use the section below to ground your selection.
For an event or a gathering, we recommend choosing a combination of “classic” pairs which are easy on the palate with more “challenging” combinations, and one that’s bound to create a discussion. This could come from the way the flavours pair or from one unique component like a “strange” chocolate bar. We do not recommend more than 4 pairings in the same seating unless you have a lot of time and one focal point.
If you are only tasting/eating/drinking one pair, we recommend to stick with a clear pairing as you will spend more time enjoying and discussing these two flavours, plus the compounding effect of an intense pairing can lead to palate fatigue.
Pairing Conspiracy Chocolate with red wine
Red wine pairs beautifully with any chocolate. The only question is which wine and which chocolate. Dak Lak is an intense cacao origin with strong notes of fruit, caramel, earthy spices, and a smokey/tobacco finish. Once roasted, conched and aged, our chocolate is full bodied and pairs best with a strong, full bodied red. A lighter red may struggle to maintain a long flavour when enjoyed together with these powerful notes.
Many great red wines share aromas with our chocolate, and any fruity, toffee, earthy or smokey red will go very well with our plain chocolate. A red wine with grassy notes may be more challenging to pair, at least in our experience. When it comes to seasoned/flavoured chocolate, we have a few favourites that make it to almost every wine pairing event we host.
Bold Red Wine | Coarse Ground Chocolate
the boldness of the wine matches the bold texture and flavour of the cacao
Fruity/Bright Red Wine | Raspberry Timut Chocolate
a rounded zing brought together with chocolate
Fruity/Floral Red Wine | Earl Grey Chocolate
a floral theme bringing both wine and chocolate together
Pinot Noir | Blossom Chocolate
an easy pairing, they are both summer-y, floral, fruity and easy to enjoy
Smokey Red Wine | Genmaicha Chocolate (by order only)
a peppery, smokey or a red wine with softer notes pairs well to bring out the toasted rice notes
Sweet Red Wine/Port | Sichuan Peppercorn Chocolate
one of our favourite pairings to conclude an event on, a satisfying and sensory experience
Pairing Conspiracy Chocolate with whiskey
Whiskey and chocolate are a love story too. They share deep, dark, woody notes and can both bring a bold experience of aroma. On the other hand, their textures being sharp vs creamy creates a pleasant contrast.
Warm Toasty Whiskey | Genmaicha Chocolate
these flavours often pair well together
High ABV Whiskey | Coarse Ground Chocolate
a whiskey with a powerful long lasting presence can keep up with Coarse Ground
Peaty/Smokey Whiskey | Ooh! Long Chocolate
two types of oolong leaves interact with the whiskey in different ways to create an interesting experience
Fresh Tasting/Grain Whiskey | Sourdough Chocolate
a unique pairing with flavours that compliment each other nicely
Bright/Creamy Whiskey | Dark Milk Chocolate (vegan)
a crowd pleasing combination, works well as a first flavour in the seating
Nutty Whiskey | Hazelnut Chocolate
a nutty whiskey with warm/caramel notes is an easy pairing with our Hazelnut chocolate
Earthy Whiskey | Black Sesame Chocolate
a pairing we discovered together at a Mandarin Oriental tasting event, black sesame together with an earthy, nutty or peaty whiskey
Coffee Notes Whiskey | Coffee Caramel Chocolate
Coffee Caramel makes an easy style pairing, especially if the whiskey also has dark caramelised notes
Fruity/Bright Whiskey | Sichuan Chocolate
Sichuan chocolate pairs with many fruity, bright and oaky whiskeys, a surprising pairing that leaves an impression
Oaky Whiskey | Salt & Caramel Chocolate
an easy pairing for most whiskeys with caramel/oaky notes, this is a broad, safe pairing
Pairing Conspiracy Chocolate with cigars
In our experience, cigars have two different aromas: the unlit smell of the 5 tobacco leaves found in a cigar (especially the aromatic exterior leaf), and the taste of it when smoked. Unlit cigar, when infused as a flavour into something else naturally matches the tobacco notes in Dak Lak’s cacao, especially those with a fermented wrapper (darker color, more common in “new world” cigars) which tend to carry chocolatey notes.
Smoked cigars bring a huge range of flavour, all of which are delivered to the palate by way of warm smoke. For this intense experience to be included in a pairing requires a robust partner from the chocolate side.
While most cigars will pair nicely with our chocolate, look for cigars with a lighter palate to leave more room for the chocolate to come through, otherwise allow additional time in your tasting for people with more sensitive palates to spend some time with these flavours.
ANY Cigar | Coarse Ground Chocolate
Coarse Ground will work with almost any cigar for it’s intensity and clear tobacco/red wine notes
Dry Cigar | Genmaicha Chocolate
Genmaicha will pair very nicely with a dry cigar rich in tannins, this is a powerful pairing and recommended for cigars with a fermented wrapper
Toasty/Nutty Cigar | Coffee Caramel Chocolate
Coffee Caramel comfortably match with a range of cigars that bring out toasty, nutty or coffee notes
Full Cigar | Ooh! Long Chocolate
a funky, full bodied cigar with long lasting notes will likely pair with Ooh! Long