For those class attendees who chose to add drinks pairings to the fermented foodstuffs fest, Caputo’s staff poured samples of four beverages suited especially for their compatibility with chocolate and cheese. Not on the table? Red wine. “Chocolate experts and sommeliers agree that red wine is horrible with cacao,” says Caputo. The tannins in red wine, in particular, fight with phenols in cacao. In combination, it can create a Novocain-like sensation: “It will deaden your taste buds for the rest of the night,” warns Caputo. In other words, step away from the young Bordeaux.
Better choices? We sampled a 12 year Appleton Estate Rum, fantastic with Amadei’s sumptuous and lush Venezuelan Chuao; and Santa Maria al Monte Amaro, which I found exceptional paired with “the punk rock shock-and-awe” Caputo ascribes to the in-your-face cacao ka-pow of Potomac Upala sourced in Costa Rica. Caputo makes an exception for grape-based beverages in the case of Madeira, beautifully suited to award-winning Amano Macoris served alongside a rare find: Fourme aux Moelleux, an unpasteurized French blue cheese.
Caputo loves to drink beer with chocolate: “Think about it. The bready, yeasty, earthy notes of an Ecuadorian chocolate like Ritual Balao 75 percent goes great with a bold IPA or double bock.”
Sticking with the previous melodious metaphor, Caputo’s chocolate playlists would give Spotify a run for its money for both variety and volume of material. A second-generation artisan foods purveyor, Matt Caputo oversees importing and sales for his family’s group of Salt Lake-based markets, as well as A Priori, a national specialty food importer and distributor. On an average day, Caputo eats between one-half to a full pound of chocolate for evaluation purposes alone. Caputo’s Markets currently stock 475 varieties of chocolate, and just last year Caputo received over 400 samples from chocolate companies hoping to be added to the persnickety A Priori roster.
And Caputo is still as passionate about chocolate today as the first time I talked with him about Utah’s growing chocolate scene years ago (Learn where to taste Utah chocolate). “Utah slays the market,” on per-capita bean-to-bar producers in the nation, he says with pride. Case in point, he notes that Amano Artisan Chocolate, arguably the most award-winning chocolate in the world this century, is made by Brigham Young University physics alumnus Art Pollard in an unmarked warehouse in Orem, about a half-hour drive south of Salt Lake City. When Amano started out, Caputo’s Markets handled half of their total sales. Since then, Amano has won over 200 national and international medals.
“I love fostering products when they’re local. Even better with Utah chocolate, it also happens to be world class,” says Caputo.
Utah’s Chocolate Authorities
Classes like Caputo’s Chocolate & Cheese are also a glimpse into what Caputo calls Utah’s exceptional “culture of cacao.” Says San Francisco-based food educator and writer Vanessa Chang of Utah’s chocolate scene, “Utah is the epicenter of cacao connoisseurs,” for both chocolate-makers and discerning consumers. And in 2016, Saveur magazine published an article with the title, “The Craft Chocolate Capital of America is … Utah?” Yes, Utah.