Can a chocolate be too spicy to eat? I ventured to the Chocolate Therapist at 2560 Main Street in Littleton seeking an answer; I left with a burning tongue and an education in chocolate-and-wine pairings.
Earlier this month, while sampling the sumptuous chocolate-port pairing at the Governor's Cup Competition, I learned that the Chocolate Therapist had produced a chile-infused chocolate patty too spicy to sell. Not possible, I thought. I’d sampled this confection – inspired by the Aztec tradition of mixing chile with chocolate – before and thought it had just the right amount of burn.
Julie Pech, owner of the Chocolate Therapist, brought me out a sample of the too-hot-to-sell chocolate and poured me a glass of milk when I started sweating. It was certainly a little too incendiary for the average customer, but I kept eating. The culprit, according to Pech, was an extra-spicy bottle of chile oil. After two batches that came out well beyond a reasonable level of heat, she changed the product from a large chile-chocolate patty to a tin of five smaller bites with less of the hot stuff added. The box label features flames and words of warning: Coco en Fuego.
I’ll douse one tonight with a glass of dark red zinfandel. Speaking of pairings, Pech has led chocolate-and-wine-pairing classes for the past decade and is the author of Dare to Pair: The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate & Wine Pairing. A growing number of area wineries and liquor stores are carrying her chocolate along with her handy Dare to Pair! pocket guide. Pech recommends giving a chocolate pairing with a bottle of wine as a gift to impart a full taste experience.
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Good chocolate pairs well with wine, beer, tea, coffee and whiskey, says Pech. I add bacon to the list. “If you find a pairing you don’t like, just keep drinking and you’ll be happy,” she advises.
Her favorites: a tawny port with a bite of the Chocolate Therapist's Dark Orange. The combination produces a Grand Marnier effect. A late-harvest Riesling with milk chocolate draws a sweet nectarine or peach nuance from the wine. Likewise, a Grenache and a little black-cherry chocolate can draw a hint of blueberry. “Everyone’s palate is different,” says Pech.
Having penned another book called The Chocolate Therapist: A User's Guide to the Extraordinary Health Benefits of Chocolate, Pech notes that it’s also important to consider the health benefits of chocolate as well as the flavor. As a nutritionist, she points out that chocolate and wine are full of antioxidants. Chocolate really is therapy, she assures me.
The store is doing brisk business this week, with Littleton's Western Welcome Week in full swing (through August 20) and the beginning of caramel-apple season for the shop's confectioners. The yen for this autumn treat wanes by Thanksgiving, but the apples will fly off the shelf this weekend during the scheduled parade. What wine would I pair with a caramel apple? Moscato or pinot noir — but I need to experiment a little (or a lot) to know for sure.