Think of important whisky producing regions of Scotland. One likely to come to mind would be Speyside.
Approximately half of all Scotland’s distilleries are located there, in that part of the Highlands where clouds crash headlong into the hills.
Although not known for Islay-type smoky whiskies, several Speysiders do indeed produce peated or peat-finished expressions. But classic, or traditional, Speysiders, whether the terms are 100 per cent historically accurate or not, tend to specialise in flavours derived from ageing spirit in sherry casks. Some, like Glenfarclas, use sherry casks exclusively. Others use a combination of American oak, or ex-Bourbon barrels, and European oak casks that formerly contained sherry.
We can argue how much the term ‘’terroir” actually fits in most cases. I’ll leave it to your palate to decide whether it matters. For our purposes, the crux of the matter is flavour and how to savour whiskies, whether alone or in combination with other stellar examples of Western gastronomy, namely chocolate and cheese.
Over the past several issues of Whisky Magazine, we’ve been developing a quick and easy way to entertain using three key ingredients: whisky, fine chocolate and cheese. I hope I’ve persuaded you by now to stop thinking of dark chocolate as simply dessert. Consider a chocolate with a high percentage of cacao as a possible savoury or spice.
But when preparation is simply a matter of slice and serve, whisky, chocolate and cheese can become focal points for pairings.
We can fill out the casual dining menu with whole grain breads to bridge the three together, then finish up with fruit and nuts.
Let’s turn our attention to chocolate and cheese, then bring them together in pairs or triads with our favourite Speyside spirit.
As far as I know, there are no bean to bar chocolate makers in Speyside.
The closest is award-winning Chocolate Tree with a factory at Knowes Farm in Dunbar, East Lothian and a store/cafe at 123 Bruntsfield Place in Edinburgh. So worth the trip!
A family operated enterprise run by artisan chocolate maker Alastair Gower and his talented, graphic designer wife, Friederike, Chocolate Tree bars and boxed chocolates delight the eyes as well as the palate.
Although I offer his dark and dark milk bars to pair with the whiskies and cheeses below, I love the way Alastair incorporates whiskies into his chocolates. If you’re fortunate enough to make it to their Edinburgh shop, try their chocolate whisky caramels.
I’m usually not a caramel fan due to the degree of sweetness. But Alastair’s are an exception for me.
They are miraculous suspensions of spirit and are quasi-sippable!
Another of Chocolate Tree’s offerings that grabbed me by the nose is their crunchy 70% Marañon nib bar, perhaps the most delightfully peaty interpretation I’ve ever tasted without resorting to a designated driver.
Scoop up the bars listed below and pair with the suggested whiskies and cheeses. Give it a try.
Can’t make it to the Edinburgh shop? Not to worry. You can buy Chocolate Tree chocolates from their online store at choctree.co.uk.
While Scotland is still shy on established bean to bar chocolate makers, the chocolate revolution has been exploding south of the border over the last couple of decades.
I’ve included in the pairings below Pump Street Bakers and Chocolate Makers (Suffolk), Dormouse (Manchester), as well as internationally renowned Akesson’s.
Scotland produces many artisan cheeses which are nearly impossible to find at home in New York.
After dragging myself to several of my favourite cheese mongers, I was only able to locate one unusual cheddar imported from the Isle of Mull. It had startling pickle notes!
As fascinating as that was, it didn’t strike me as a promising match for whisky, so we move on.
However, other Scottish cheeses resemble types made elsewhere in the UK, and are relatively easy to find.
I've included some of those in the pairings below, as well as some continental cheeses that went well with the Speysiders.
Pairings and Triads
Balvenie 12 Years Old DoubleWood, 40% ABV, spends the first 12 years of life maturing in American oak ex-Bourbon barrels, then an additional nine months in Spanish casks that formerly held Oloroso sherry and teams up nicely with:
Akesson’s (UK) Criollo Madagascar 75% with citrus and berry notes complement those sherry-derived flavours of the whisky.
Queso Mancheco PDO (Spain) is often paired with guava paste, so it is a natural for the swirling, tangy, fruit tannins emerging from the Balvenie and Madagascar bars.
Benriach 10 Years Old, aged in ex-Bourbon and sherry casks works with these mates:
Chocolate Tree (Scotland) Marañon 60% Milk Chocolate. As a dark milk, the citrus is subdued.
Double and triple cream Brie types, from the delicate and buttery, such as Fromager d’Affinois, to the more vegetal Brie, Fromage de Meaux by Rouzaire, play nicely with the Benriach and Marañon.
Saint Angel with Geotrichum candidum instead of Penicillium candidum, provides a safe alternative to those who may be allergic to white mould rinds.
Glenfarclas 17 Years Old, 43% ABV, matured only in sherry casks, presents luscious fruit pie, malt, vanilla pudding, cinnamon and oatmeal cookie notes.
Chocolate Tree (Scotland), Marañon 60% Milk bar partners with the whisky in a milk and cookie kinda way.
Quickie’s (UK) Clothbound Cheddar, aged 12 months, tempts with a mild sharpness and moderate acidity that pull back the cookie and milk tendencies of the whisky and Marañon bar. As a triad, the chocolate spikes the salinity of the cheese.
The Macallan 12 Years Old Double Cask, 43% ABV, is aged in sherry-seasoned new American oak and married with whisky aged in ex-sherry European oak. Sherry notes along with waves of orange zest, fig, oak, toffee, honey, and vanilla may harmonise with the following three bars:
Dormouse (UK) Kablon Farm, Philippines, dark 71.5%
Dormouse (UK) Kablon Farm Philippines, milk 56 %
Pump Street (UK) Bachelor’s Hall Estate, Jamaica 75%
This Macallan expression was worked well with a Dutch Gouda (Beemster Classic, aged 18 months) yet also went with a Cheddar (Quickie’s Clothbound Cheddar, aged 12 months).
The Beemster provided a more complex experience with multiple flavour peaks, particularly with the Pump Street. The Quickie triad tended to blend all three components in a pleasing way, with the 71.5 per cent by Dormouse giving a richer experience than the smoky caramel in the 56 per cent milk, also by Dormouse.