It had been quite a while since I had the chance to experiment with pairings. The last time I experimented I paired a Knob Creek Small Batch 100 Proof with Alluvia 100% dark chocolate. You can read more about it here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/made-for-each-other-ii/. In that same post I had expressed a desire of pairing a brandy with the same chocolate. So since I had some solitude and time on hand this last weekend I decided to fulfil the desire to experiment with a cognac that Santa Claus (in the form of my father) got me last Christmas and some of the leftover 100% dark chocolate from my trip to Vietnam in February of last year.
REMY MARTIN VSOP WITH 100% DARK CHOCOLATE
Cognacs are generally more expensive than whiskies and even more so in this part of the world because of all the duties they attract. The Remy Martin VSOP is a cognac both my father and I enjoy from time to time especially after a rich and heavy dinner. For the uninitiated, cognac is nothing but a brandy that hails from the Cognac region of France. It is distilled from grapes which are used for making wines. The kinds of grapes that do not yield drinkable wine but a very dry and acidic variety are distilled into cognac. These varieties of grapes are usually very good for distillation and then subsequent ageing. The distilled spirit known as eau de vie is then aged in oak casks which are made from oak trees from Limousin, France. After this they are blended or married. The term VSOP stands for Very Superior Old Pale which means that the youngest cognac in the blend has to be aged in the oak casks for a minimum of four years. All cognacs from the house of Remy Martin are Fine Champagne cognacs i.e. the cognacs are a blend of distilled spirits or the eau de vie from Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne regions of Cognac, France.
So much for cognac, now for the result of my experimental pairing. I had had a dinner of baked pork loin with seasonal veggies and was in the perfect mood for a tipple of cognac. I poured the Remy in a cognac snifter and let it sit for a while. I held the glass at the base of my palm, gave it a twirl and gently sniffed in the sweet fruity aromas that the cognac gave off. On sipping I found myself appreciating the sweet and silky spirit which continued to linger on my palate for a while after I had swallowed it down. The time was ripe I felt to bite into the chocolate. As expected from prior experience the chocolate was devoid of any sweetness and creaminess tasting like rich earthy cocoa.
Upon my second sip of the cognac I found that the elegant spirit tasted silkier and sweeter. More luxurious. The sweet fruity notes seemed to coexist now with a spicy tingle on the palate. I was expecting the profile of the chocolate to now become bitter. On the contrary the previously gritty earthiness gave way to creaminess. Of course when I refer to creaminess I do not mean as creamy as a 55% dark chocolate but use it in a more relative manner. The more I sipped the cognac and bit into the chocolate and let it melt slowly in my mouth I appreciated the chocolate bar’s lack of cocoa butter because I felt that presence of cocoa butter might have contradicted the smooth silkiness of the cognac. Gradually the intense earthy cocoa developed into woodiness with hints of nuttiness.
The experience of the experiment was heightened by Duke Ellington playing in the background and the gripping novel that I was reading. It is in ways like this that one tends to enjoy food and drinks with all of one’s senses primed to receive elements of the external world and let them each affect the mind in a way that it feels like a single memorable experience.
I am without a shadow of doubt a self proclaimed sweet-tooth. I love most things sweet be it puddings, cakes, Indian sweets, candies and even fruits. It is almost as if I can never get too much of them. But I do realise that added sugars in the form of desserts and candies are nothing but empty calories and having made a particular lifestyle choice a couple of years ago too much sugar doesn’t fit into my scheme of things anymore. Moreover, consuming too much sugar ultimately leads to insulin insensitivity which in turn leads to the silent killer disease we all know as diabetes. But I have often let my mind wander to the realms of an imaginary world where too much sweets and desserts wouldn’t necessarily be bad for you.
In the month of January many Hindu communities cerebrate a festival on the occasion of which traditional sweets are made at home. Without delving too much into the nitty gritty of the festival itself let me tell you about a particular dessert which is a part of the Bengali kitchen during that time of the year. The local name for it is Rangaloor Pooli. Although each household may have their own recipe it is basically a sweet potato dumpling stuffed with sugar and milk which by heating is reduced to a drier form of ricotta. The dumpling is then deep fried and soaked in jaggery syrup till the stuffing is moist and has absorbed the flavours of the jaggery. I have often wondered what if this juicy and delicious dessert had all the goodness of a sweet potato and the milk. What if the body could use the carbs from the sweet potato and the protein from the milk? Wouldn’t it be fun to be eat something so indulgent yet so nutritional?
What about the Traditional Christmas Pudding? How wonderful would it be if the eggs that bind the pudding together could be as nutritionally beneficial as a soft boiled egg? What if all the goodness of the spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg could be made use of by the body than just their mere flavours? Would not that make our bodies as cheerful as our moods are at that time of the year?
We all know about the goodness of lemons, how the citric acid in it acts as an alkaline cleanser in our bodies and how the vitamin c in it helps in strengthening the immunity system. But what if the lemon cream in a lemon and dark chocolate layered cake had all those benefits? And what if the dark chocolate sponge had as much anti-oxidants as a couple of cubes of the dark chocolate itself?
Calcutta is famous not just for its roshogollas (cottage cheese dumplings fried in sugar syrup) but also for its sandesh. Sandesh is also made with cottage cheese and sugar but it is never fried. Other flavours and flavouring agents may or may not be added to it and most sweets shops have their own secret recipes. The most famous and highly regarded ones can be found in and around the northern part of the city each having their own variety and collection. But what if the sandesh too had all the goodness of the cottage cheese which is rich in protein and healthy fats?
What if sugar itself in any form whatsoever was beneficial to our bodies? What if sugar helped build and maintain muscle like proteins? Would it be half as fun as it is to treat yourself to a sinful dessert after a healthy meal? Would the term ‘guilty pleasure’ have any relevance in the dictionary? Food is not all about nutrition and calories and good health. From time to time food needs to be fun, it needs to be enjoyed, it needs to be relished and it needs to be sinful. That is not to say that a good steak or a bowlful of oats cannot be enjoyed or that there aren’t any healthy desserts out there but if you’re a sweet tooth like me who leads a balanced and healthy life but enjoys a cheat dessert once in a while you would know where I am coming from.