Lake Champlain Chocolates in the Low Country: Tips for your next Cocktail Party

You wouldn’t expect to find Lake Champlain Chocolates at Palmetto Bluff’s Music To Your Mouth Festival – a week long celebration of the Low Country cuisine and lifestyle.  I was fortunate to attend the fourth annual event this year and joined Jim, as host of the Chocolate Decadence Cruise Aboard the Grace.

On a beautiful, sunny fall afternoon, we boarded the 60 foot antique motor yacht and spent two hours touring the May River.  Most of the guests were intrigued with the chocolate, cheese, beer, wine, and conversation; however for me, the highlight was seeing dolphins frolicking in the water.

Our menu began with Champagne, the ideal beverage for ANY chocolate!

We served an unexpected ‘cheese course’ next.  Fresh goat cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy spread on a simple cracker topped with a Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel.  Guests were surprised to see a whole caramel atop a cracker with cheese.  Once they tasted it and experienced the salty-sweet-sour explosion of flavor, they were convinced this should be on the menu for their next cocktail party. Next up was a Sharp Cheddar Cheese with Caramelized Almonds.  With most of the guests being from the Northeast and accustomed to a sharp cheddar from Grafton or Shelburne Farms, all agreed that the pairing with the caramelized almonds was good but would have been better with a more pungent cheese.

At this point, our palates were looking for liquid refreshment so we shifted gears and got into the beers.  The locally brewed Thomas Creek IPA, was a refreshing choice with the fruitiness of Dark Chocolate Covered Orange Peels.  We headed to the darker side next pairing the Thomas Creek Porter with our newest creation, the Peanut Chocolate Caramel.  The saltiness from the roasted peanuts balanced nicely with the chocolatey notes in the Porter.

Savory  and bold flavors were next – Blue Cheese alongside the Organic 70% Dark Chocolate Truffle.  The dairy notes from the butter and cream in the Truffle counterbalanced the bold, salty, and sour of the Blue Cheese.  While I’m not a big fan of blue cheese, the chocolate offered a nice ‘sweetener’ to cleanse my palate.

The Organic Vanilla Truffle, also in 70% dark chocolate was matched with Leitz’s Reisling, Rheingau which offered a sweet honeyed nose that was ripe, melony and pure. The palate was fresh and limey with overly bright apple fruit notes.

Our last pairing of the afternoon was to be with a single vineyard Zinfandel from Quivira’s Wine Creek Ranch vineyard, a hilly area in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley.  It was an enjoyable Zin, which became even more enjoyable after it was opened up a bit.   Not too jammy, hints of pepper, fresh thyme and a nice finish.  The plan was to recommend the Spicy Aztec Organic Chocolate with it.  I really liked this combination.  Jim much preferred the simple 54% Dark Chocolate.  We gave our guests the option of about six choices – seemed that most did indeed prefer the spicy Aztec with the spicy Zin.

A great time was had by all and it was fun to see these chocolate lovers at other events throughout the weekend, including Friday night’s Supper Club Block Party where I was fortunate to eat the food of the Bayou region by Bravo’s Top Chef Winner, Kevin Sbraga.  Not only was his food outstanding; his personality and conversation was equally enjoyable.  Both of us got to enjoy Saturday’s festival on the Green at Palmettto Bluff’s Village – eating and drinking food from the most talented local artisans.  Gail Simmons, from Food & Wine Magazine and judge of Top Chef, moderated the cooking demonstrations by other Top Chef competitors like Chef Kevin Gillespie of Atlanta’s Woodfire Grill and Chef Kenny Gilbert of Nippers Beach Grille in Jacksonville, FL.  They demonstrated that simple food is often most enjoyable and that holds true for chocolate pairings.  Experiment & intrigue the guests at your next event!