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THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on,
the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Giftable

TIP OF THE DAY: Pairing Cheese & Chocolate

Forget the bread, crackers and fruit: Who knew that plain chocolate, chocolate truffles and chocolate-covered caramels—the latter two with prominent dairy and buttery notes—pair so well with cheese?

We know that chocolate cheesecake, and a chocolate ganache topping on regular cheesecake, are delicious. So how about serving a piece of cheese with a piece of chocolate?

If you love both cheese and chocolate, you can have a party that pairs both, for Valentine’s Day or any special occasion. You can pair almost any cheese, from a sweet mascarpone to a mushroomy Brie to a tangy blue. You can also add toasted nuts and a libation of choice. But start with some guidance from the experts.

When deciding on pairings, contrast textures in the cheese and chocolate. For example, try a soft, creamy cheese with a simple dark chocolate square, or a hard, crumbly cheese drizzled with chocolate ganache.

Lake Champlain Chocolates offers these insights:

  • Soft ripened goat’s, sheep’s or cow’s milk cheeses tend to be more pungent, acidic and aggressive and pair well with both dark chocolate and milk chocolate.


    Cheese and chocolate? Absolutely! Photo courtesy

  • Aged cheese is nutty, and less acidic, with a crunchy texture that pairs well with chocolates with fillings and inclusions, such as almonds, honey and maple.
  • Blue cheese, with its sharp, pungent aromas and flavors, enhances the undertones of bittersweet dark chocolate (70% or higher cacao content).
  • suggests pairing:

  • Bittersweet chocolates with salty cheeses, like aged Asiago, Parmesan or pecorino.
  • Dark chocolate with complex, aged cheeses such as Beaufort, Cheshire, aged Gruyère, Manchego.
  • Milk chocolate with fresh, sweet cheese like crescenza, cream cheese, crème fraîche, mascarpone, ricotta, and Teleme; or buttery, semisoft cheeses like Brie, creamy blues, triple crèmes and washed rind cheeses.
  • Chocolate with nuts or dried fruits with creamier, semisoft cheeses as well as aged, more complex cheeses, such as Asiago, Cheddar, fontina, Gouda, or beer or wine washed rind cheeses.
  • Spicy chocolates with sharp cheeses that are not overly salty: aged Gouda and aged Jack for example.
    Vermont Creamery likes these pairings:

  • Fresh goat cheese with its creamy tartness with dense milk or dark chocolate truffles.
  • Soft, ripened cheese with dark chocolate, especially those spiced with cinnamon, cayenne or anise for a more complex flavor profile. Try Aztec chocolate with aged goat cheese.
  • Aged cheese with nutty notes, such as good Cheddar, well with an almond chocolate bar or chocolate-covered almonds. Bonbons with honey and maple fillings work, too.
  • Strong blue cheese, sharp and pungent with semisweet dark chocolate. Try a great blue like Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue with a simple bar of 50% to 65% cacao.


    Jasper Hill’s chocolate and cheese Valentine git set. Photo courtesy Jasper Hill Farm.


    You can download an extensive party guide from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, but here are the highlights:

  • Alpine-style cheese like Gruyère or Emmental, with milk chocolate. Since the Alpine cheeses have nutty notes, you can also pair add some nuts, from plain almonds or walnuts to rosemary cashews.
  • Aged Cheddar with chocolate-dipped bacon or with Aztec (spicy) dark chocolate. Hints of cayenne or other pepper really work with Cheddar. Also try spicy chocolate with a blue cheese.
  • Aged Parmesan with dark chocolate and oatmeal stout. The nutty flavor of aged Parmesan also invites dark chocolate covered almonds. If you’re a beer drinker, try it with an oatmeal stout.
  • Blue cheese with dark chocolate truffles and a glass of Port. Blue cheese and Port are already a popular pairing. The dark chocolate bridges the saltiness of the cheese and the sweetness of the wine.
  • Mixed milk cheese—a combination of cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk—tend to have an intense earthy flavor. Pair them with white chocolate, with its sweeter counterpoint. If you like, add some cranberry chutney. These earthy cheeses also work well with chocolate-covered salt caramels. Yum!
    The great British chef Heston Blumenthal pairs caviar and white chocolate. So if you have a favorite food, test it with a bite of dark, milk or white chocolate to see if it works.

    Brooklyn chocolatiers the Mast brothers, known for their small batch, artisan chocolate bars, joined up with Jasper Hill Farm to develop a milk chocolate trio that showcases the flavors of cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milks.

    It’s a rare experience to see how a chocolate bar made with other animal milks compare with the familiar cow’s milk used in all conventional milk chocolate. Here’s your chance! These particular bars are made with semisweet 60% cacao that has naturally nutty notes. But what you’ll also find is that:

  • The cow’s milk bar has toasty notes of tobacco and wood smoke.
  • The goat’s milk bar has notes of citrus and date.
  • The sheep’s milk bar tastes of dulce du leche and fresh dairy.
    Jasper Hill Farm has created a Cheese & Chocolate Gift Box that pairs this unique chocolate trio with two chocolate-loving cheeses. Each gift box contains the three 2.5-ounce chocolate bars plus:

  • Bayley Hazen Blue, made with raw cow’s milk, a creamy blue cheese with sweet undertones (8 ounces). Pairing with chocolate brings out its buttery flavors of the milk.
  • Weybridge, made with organic cow’s milk, a bright, dense cheese with an edible bloomy rind. A bright, tangy cheese, it has a yogurty flavor that becomes more intense and gamey as it ages. It’s made in a limited-edition heart shaped just for Valentine’s Day (3.5 ounces).
    The gift box is $62.00 at You can order any time and specify your preferred delivery date.


    VALENTINE GIFTS: Chocolate Lips, Macarons In Red


    You can actually reuse the “clutch” packaging
    as a fun evening bag. Photo by Faith
    Tomases | THE NIBBLE.


    We love gifts with “keeper” boxes. We always find ways to repurpose the boxes, which continue to remind us of the gift and the giver.

    Pâtissier François Payard has chosen beautiful packaging for his Valentine confections. We’ve selected two to highlight. Both can be shipped nationwide.

    “Kiss Me” Chocolates

    Eighteen luscious lips are packaged in a container so lovely, you could use it as an evening clutch.

    Half of the chocolates are milk chocolate filled with caramel and fleur de sel, enrobed in Valrhona’s 40% Jivara Milk Chocolate.

    The other half are gancache-filled dark chocolate, Valrhona’s 66% Caraibe. The ganache is infused with freshly puréed passion fruit and mango.

    The two flavors are a contrast in deliciousness: creamy caramel versus tangy fruit. A gift of Kiss Me Chocolates should earn you many actual kisses in return.


    “Sweet Love” Macaron Collection

    Pull the ribbon on the drawer of the box, and pull out 12 elegant macarons. There are four each in:

  • Cassis Violet: white chocolate with violet & black currants ganache
  • Passion Fruit & Banana: white chocolate with banana & passion fruit ganache
  • Rose Water: white chocolate with rose water ganache

    Born and trained in France (he’s a third-generation pastry chef), Payard moved to New York in 1990 as Pastry Chef at the four-star Le Bernardin restaurant, and subsequently at the four-star Restaurant Daniel. He was named Pastry Chef of the Yearin 1995, by the James Beard Foundation.

    Now the proprietor of five bakeries/bakery-cafés in New York City, he also sells selected products online.

    Discover more at



    A drawer of macarons pulls out with a satin ribbon. Photo by Faith Tomases | THE NIBBLE..




    VALENTINE GIFT: Shiny Chocolate Hearts


    Pretty to look at, these shiny chocolate hearts are filled with luscious raspberry-infused ganache. Photo courtesy Kohler.


    These lovely hearts, from Kohler Chocolates, are beautifully crafted:

    The dark chocolate shells are filled with a delicate raspberry-accented chocolate ganache.

    The dark chocolate is then enrobed with a thin layer of red-tinted white chocolate, which is hand painted with pink dots, and glazed to a very dazzling shine.

    Choose from four sizes, gift-boxed and tied with a lovely ribbon. The smallest size makes a great wedding favor.

  • 4-Piece Box, $9.99
  • 9-Piece Box, $18.99
  • 32-Piece Box, $59.99
    Get yours at




    PRODUCT: “Breakfast” Chocolate Bars

    If you know someone who would gladly eat chocolate for breakfast, [s]he may be able to justify it with these new chocolate bars from Chuao Chocolatier:

  • Cinnamon Cereal Smooch, milk chocolate mixed with bits of cinnamon toast cereal.
  • Strawberry Waffle Wild, milk chocolate mixed with tart dried strawberries and crispy waffle pieces.
    They join an existing line of 14 palate-pleasing and imaginative chocolate bars, including Baconluxious and Potato Chip.

    The chocolate bars sell for an SRP of $6.00 (but are on sale for $4.00), and can be found online at as well as at major retailers nationwide, including Bed Bath & Beyond, REI and Whole Foods Markets.


    For about the same price, you can make your own chocolate bars at This fun company utilizes a process that lets you place your choice of some 70 different ingredients—fruits, nuts, candies, spices—atop a dark, milk or white Belgian chocolate bar.



    “Breakfast chocolate,” embedded with cereal. Photo courtesy Chuao Chocolatier.

    Cereal options include Caramelized Rice Krispies, Teddy Grahams, Vanilla Granola and Waffle Crunch. Non-cereal options include from Potato Chips and Real Bacon.

    For Valentine’s Day, there are Candy Sugar Hearts, Message Hearts and LOVE plaques in white chocolate, along with Lavender Petals, 24 Karat Gold Flakes and Pink Pop Rocks.

    You can create your own bar or send a gift certificate so the recipient can customize excactly what [s]he wants. (In fact, the gift certificates are one of our favorite Valentine gifts.)



    VALENTINE GIFT: Mini Cupcakes From Baked By Melissa

    These itty bitty cupcakes (about half the size of the photo) will delight kids and adults equally.

    The Valentine Collection from Baked By Melissa—a pioneer in tiny cupcakes—includes three varieties. Packaged in a gift box with a pink ribbon, the Valentine Collection includes:

  • White Chocolate Pretzel Cupcakes: white vanilla cake, Bavarian cream stuffing, vanilla icing, white chocolate covered pretzel and chocolate drizzle topping.
  • Red Velvet Pretzel Cupcakes: Red velvet cake, cream cheese icing, milk chocolate covered pretzel and chocolate drizzle topping.
  • Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcakes: chocolate cake, peanut butter stuffing, chocolate icing, dark chocolate pretzel and chocolate drizzle topping.
    The round ball at the top is a chocolate-covered pretzel, adding crunch and a hint of salt to the sweet cupcakes. The cupcakes are bite-size: slightly larger than the diameter of a quarter, one or two bites.

    In the words of Melissa, a little cupcake equals a lot of love.

    The cupcakes, which are kosher-certified by OK, can be shipped nationwide and can be pre-ordered starting today. A 25-piece gift box is $25, plus shipping.



    Shown here about twice the actual size, the cupcakes have the diameter of a quarter. Photo courtesy Baked By Melissa.

    To place an order, head to For Valentine’s Day delivery, shipping orders must be placed by 3 p.m. on Friday, February 13th.



    The Valentine gift box, tied with a pink ribbon. Photo courtesy Baked By Melissa.



    Before the advent of muffin tins, cupcakes were baked in individual tea cups or ramekins. The first reference to the miniature cakes dates to 1796, when a recipe for “cake to be baked in small cups” appeared in the cookbook, “American Cookery.” The earliest documentation of the term “cupcake” was in “Eliza Leslie’s Receipts cookbook” in 1828. [Source]

    Cupcakes were convenient because they cooked much faster than larger cakes. It took a long time to bake a cake in a hearth oven; cupcakes baked in a fraction of the time.

    Muffin tins became widely available around the turn of the 20th century, and offered new convenience to bakers. Paper and foil liners were created for easier removal of the cupcakes from the pan.


    They evolved into children’s party fare, but in the last decade have taken a more sophisticated turn. First, some younger couples began to choose “cupcake trees” instead of conventional wedding cakes. This prompted a flurry of cupcake articles and recipes, and ultimately the opening of boutique cupcake bakeries nationwide, offering everyday treats.

    Each Baked By Melissa cupcake has 70-90 calories, but that’s a workable daily treat. An average-size cupcake from Crumbs, Magnolia, Sprinkles and the like will run you 450 calories or so (here’s a calorie comparison).



    VALENTINE GIFT: Kiss A Frog Chocolates

    If you know a woman who is still waiting for the frog to turn into the handsome prince, here’s an idea for Valentine’s Day:

    A box of Kiss A Frog chocolates, frog-shaped chocolates. The chocolates include 26 solid chocolate frogs and 6 frogs filled with peanut butter. They’re nestled in a chocolate brown, heart-shaped box tied with a gossamer green ribbon.

    The box of chocolate frogs, a total of 16 ounces, is $39.00 at

    Black Dinah Chocolates, handmade in Maine (on a remote island offshore), are a favorite at THE NIBBLE (here’s our review).

    The confectioners also make beautiful bonbons, bark, salted caramels and other beguiling confections.

    Discover more at



    Chocolate frogs will have to do instead of a handsome prince. Photo courtesy Black Dinah Chocolates.




    SUPER BOWL: Garrett Popcorn

    For Super Bowl munching, how about some Spicy CheeseCorn? The limited edition flavor from Garrett Popcorn is a welcome gift: a yummy blend of cayenne pepper and chili powder mixed with freshly melted Cheddar cheese corn.

    Combine with a cold beer, and you may not care who wins or loses.

    Send Spicy CheeseCorn as a gift or send some to yourself, at

    You can choose from an array of tin sizes and six different tin designs, from 1 gallon to 6.5 gallons ($31 to $135). And if you don}t like things spicy, you can choose from Garrett’s other flavors:

  • Almond CaramelCrisp
  • Buttery
  • CaramelCrisp
  • Cashew CaramelCrisp
  • CheeseCorn


    Spicy CheeseCorn; BYOB. Photo courtesy Garrett Popcvorn.

  • Garrett Mix (sweet CaramelCrisp with savory CheeseCorn)
  • Macadamia CaramelCrisp
  • Pecan CaramelCrisp
  • Plain
    You can order single flavors or combine three flavors in one tin. Details are on the company website.





    It’s a beauty—and it has a just-as-lovely gift
    box. Photo courtesy Hennessy.


    We sign our letters to friends with “X.O.,” short for a hug and a kisse.

    The abbreviation for “hugs and kisses,” XOXO, has been used for centuries to express love or good friendship at the end of a written letter or card (and these days at the end of an email or text message). The X stands for kiss and the O for hug.

    What is the history of this custom? Why not HKHK instead of XOXO? There’s more about that below.

    First, we’d like to suggest a luxurious Valentine’s Day gift: X.O. Cognac, a divine aperitíf or nightcap.

    This style of Cognac was created in 1870 by Maurice Hennessy, to be enjoyed with his circle of friends. The bold, intense and complex flavors are based on much longer aging. Some of the 100 eaux-de-vie* assembled to create X.O were aged for 30 years. M. Hennessy gave it the name X.O to signify “extra old.”

    It’s a Cognac for connoisseurs, served neat, on ice or with a splash of still or sparkling water. Don’t even think of mixing it in a cocktail!

    By the way, it was Maurice Hennessy, great-grandson of company founder Richard Hennessy, who created the Cognac classification system. He used varying numbers of stars to designate different quality, first producing Hennessy’s Three Star Cognac, today known as V.S (Very Special). His classification system was adopted by the entire industry.

    When he was the Prince of Wales, King George IV of Great Britain asked Hennessy to create a “very superior old pale Cognac.” It was designated V.S.O.P—Very Superior Old Pale—and since then, a letter system evolved to replace the stars (see below).


    Deliver your hugs and kisses with a bottle of X.O. Cognac. In addition to Hennessy, it is made by a number of Cognac houses including Camus, Courvoisier, Martell, Rémy Martin and others. They bottles cost $150 and up.

    While a bottle of Hennessy X.O., at the top of the price scale, can cost upwards of $200, we found it “on sale” at for $165.

    If you’re not looking for a bargain, you can get a custom-engraved bottle directly from Hennessy. Your message is engraved on the back of the bottle, making it a lovely keepsake (see the photo below).

    We also like to give an engraved bottle of X.O. Cognac as a wedding gift or anniversary gift.



  • V.O.: Very Old, aged a minimum of four years.
  • V.S.: Very Special. The youngest brandy in the blend has been aged for at least two years in cask. Also called Three Star.
  • V.S.O.P.: Very Superior Old Pale; the youngest spirit in the blend is aged four years in cask but the average can be 10 to 15 years.
  • X.O.: Extra Old. The youngest brandy is aged for at least six years but the average is 20 years or more. In 2016, the minimum storage age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend will be 10 years.
  • Extra/Napoleon/Vielle Reserve: While regulations designate a minimum of 6 years of age for the youngest brandy, this average is usually older than X.O.
    There are other age designations, but they are smaller productions and are not typically imported to the U.S.
    Other terms to know:



    Engrave a personal message on your X.O. Gift Photo courtesy Hennessy.

  • Hors d’Age: Meaning “beyond age,” this is a rare Cognac that is off the designated age scale.
  • Varietal: Made using only one type of varietal grape
  • Vintage: Aged and was put into the bottle in the year of the vintage
    ABOUT X’s AND O’s

    The custom of placing X’s on envelopes and at the bottom of letters notes, signifying kisses, dates back to the Middle Ages. At that time, a Christian cross was drawn on documents or letters to indicate faith, honesty and sincerity. A kiss, indicated with an X, was then placed upon the cross by the signer as a display of his or her sworn oath.

    A similar practice dates back to early Christian history. Since most people could neither read nor write, an X was used as their signature on documents, and an actual kiss was placed upon it as a show of sincerity. [Source]

    What about the “O?” Current speculation is that it is of Jewish derivation, since Jews would not use the sign of the cross.

    In terms of how the two symbols came together in the very non-legal “hugs and kisses”: Alas, dear reader, the answer is lost to history.
    *Eau de vie (eaux is the plural), pronounced oh-duh-VEE, is French for “water of life.” It’s a clear, colorless fruit brandy. After the brandy is aged in wood, it takes on its amber color. Cognac is a region in northern France; only brandies produced there can be called “Cognac.” The artisanship and strict production regulations in Cognac creates a superior spirit. Generic “brandy” can be produced anywhere.


  • Comments

    VALENTINE GIFT: Crème Yvette


    Crème Yvette violet liqueur, worth getting to know. Photo courtesy Cooper Spirits International.


    This old-fashioned-looking bottle with an unfamiliar name hasn’t been around in more than 40 years. Purple-hued and violet-scented, it was enjoyed since the 19th century in cocktails and as an after-dinner digestif.

    Alas, it was one of many old-fashioned liqueurs that went out of style and ceased to be produced; in this case, it went defunct in 1969. But it recently caught the fancy of the creator of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur (another favorite for Valentine’s Day or any day), who has resurrected it.

    Crème Yvette, also called Crème d’Yvette and Crème de Yvette, is made from parma violet petals*, blackberries, blackcurrants, red raspberries and wild strawberries, along with honey, orange peel and vanilla.

    Currently, it seems to be available in New York and California, but you can see if your local liquor store can order a bottle for you.

    There are cocktail recipes on the brand’s website, We enjoyed mixing it with sparkling wine (we also layered St. Germain into one variation).

    And it’s delicious atop raspberry sorbet—an easy Valentine’s Day dessert.

    (By the way, exactly who Yvette was has been lost to history.)
    *The same exotic flower used to make those violet pastilles.




    VALENTINE’S DAY: Send A Cake To Your Valentine & To A Veteran


    Send a gift to a loved one and a veteran. Photo courtesy Bake Me A Wish.

 ’s Valentine’s Day Freedom Cake is a Valentine gift with real meaning. When you send a cake to a loved one, Bake Me A Wish will also send a cake to a veteran in a VA Hospital in the U.S.

    It’s $75 for both cakes; the cake is normally $39.95 plus $15 shipping.

    If you’d rather buy something else: When you spend $25 or more at, use the code VETERAN. Bake Me A Wish will automatically donate 20% of the purchase price toward sending a cake to a veteran in a VA Hospital.

    The initiative is in partnership with, Soldiers’ Angels, whose motto is “May no soldier go unloved.” The non-profit organization provides assistance to families of enlisted soldiers. sends gift-boxed cakes nationwide, and includes a personalized card. If you’ve forgotten a special occasion, the cake can be delivered overnight.


    To order your Freedom Cake or other cake gift, visit



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