For flavor, a good cigar should stand on its own. Aromatic touches of leather, spice, and nuttiness are a few of the palate stimulating profiles you can experience when indulging in a quality stick. Of course, as any cigar smoker will tell you, there’s nothing like pairing your favorite stogie with the bite and depth of a top-shelf glass of bourbon or scotch. Food pairings are also common among avid cigar folks — a smoky, barbecue dish really meshes well with the right cigar. Yet, one of the lesser-known, but just as enjoyable may surprise you — pairing cigars and chocolate, and it’s easy to understand why.
A look at the origins of chocolate, the similarities between the cultivation and processing of cacao beans and tobacco leaves, and finally, a guide to finding a proper paring between types of chocolate and cigars should help to clear up any doubts you might have about this delectable duo.
A Brief History of Chocolate
To appreciate a good cigar, you must understand the rich history and complexity of the cultivation of the tobacco leaf. You’ll find the same level of depth in chocolate history. Looking at it from this angle sets the stage for a solid pairing.
Some within the historic community say that the origins of chocolate date back as far as 1400 B.C. with ancient Central and South American civilizations. Back then, ancient peoples such as the Mayans and the Aztecs revered the cacao bean as a gift from the gods, and even used it as currency. These ancient peoples referred to this earlier chocolate as xocoatl. Elite members of society used it as an aphrodisiac.
By the middle of the 19th century, it had taken on the common chocolate bar form we know today. Since then, it’s amassed global affection. In fact, the chocolate industry is now valued at over $100 billion, and contains more varieties of chocolate than we know what to do with.
Cigars and Chocolate: Flavorful Philosophies
As most cigar smokers know, the flavor profile of a cigar is heavily affected by the region where the tobacco is grown. Things like temperature, rainfall, drainage, and soil nutrients all contribute to the flavorful complexity that aficionados appreciate.
Chocolate is no exception regarding the impact of these elements on the final product. In fact, cacao cultivation occurs in many of the same locales as tobacco with plantations in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Much like tobacco, the cacao tree thrives in rich, nutrient-packed soil warmed by tropical sunshine.
The fermentation process of both plants contributes to their similarities while adding complexity of the flavor to the finished product. Like a cigar’s tobacco wrapper, the cacao beans are fermented in boxes. These boxes break down cacao bean seed coats, kill germs, and give chocolate its unique taste — one that offers a natural pairing of cigars and chocolate.
A Guide to Pairing Cigars and Chocolate
With so many varieties of cigars and chocolate, the prospect of pairing the two might seem overwhelming at first. Yet, it’s important to note that pairing anything — be it food or drink — with a cigar is a subjective journey. Beauty is in the beholder’s eye. Use this guide more like scaffolding and a place to start, rather than a hard and fast rule.
Matching the strengths of the cigar with the cocoa content of the chocolate is a great place to begin. Chocolatiers roast and grind cacao into powder, forming the cocoa we know and love. The higher the cocoa content, the less sweet the chocolate will be.
Like cigars, top-shelf dark chocolate has a rich and complex flavor profile. It also often has a bitter, earthy taste. Yet, a refined palate also may detect notes of spice, licorice, and dried fruit.
A milder cigar will pair well with milk chocolate. Aim for a cocoa content of 30% to 40%. The dark chocolate spectrum begins at about 50% cocoa, so something in this mid-range of chocolate compliments a medium-potency smoke. Finally, consider pairing a stronger, full-bodied stick with anything above 70% cocoa for a great match.
To ensure you experience all the subtle flavors of chocolate, don’t chill or refrigerate it. Now, take your time and enjoy the complexity of the chocolate contrasted with the flavor of the cigar. Try rotating different varieties of chocolate with one or more sticks to see what works best for you. Remember, cleanse your palate before switching things up, bon appétit!
Photo credit: Cigar Life Guy