Candied cocoa nib walnuts- Hello again, Comté
If a regular reader of my writing, it's probably safe to assume that you're aware of my love for Comté. Alpine wheels in general have a special spot in my dairy drawer, and Comté was the first Alpine to really open my eyes to the magic of the hills. Before Comté, I knew you could ski down the Alps and Rhone-Alps around the Jura, sure, but since my slim wallet and my inability to stop or slow down while skiing without heading directly into a snow bank rendered me less interesting in snow sports, I hadn't paid as much attention to the region as I had, say, Tuscany, whose hills I could walk up and down.
Then one day Daphne Zeppos sliced me a piece of the cheese she imported for Essex (at room temperature of course) with a smile that could light up five rooms and explained the region's tradition of transhumance. I fell in love with the cheese (and her of course too, but, well, she was married, what could you do?). After that, I toured the Jura twice- once on a short wine trip and next with a group of cheese geeks who did nothing but think of Comté and drink amazingly weird and lovely Jura wine for five days. So this is to all say that I kinda like the region and its cheese.
The candied walnuts with cocoa nibs recipe is one that I created for my cheese club members. Every month I create a recipe for them inspired by one the cheeses in the club, and email the recipe and a little more about their selections to members after their three cheeses and condiment ship. This recipe was to pair with their Essex Marcel Petite Comté- one of my April picks. While I crafted the recipe to pair with Comté (and admit that's my favorite pairing for it so far), it would pair well with many cheeses- even some of the spring goat cheeses out right now. This with fresh goat cheese, over an arugula salad? Mmm hmmm. I'll share a recipe for a Comté, candied walnut and cocoa nib salad in a couple weeks, too.
As for the inspiration behind the recipe, serving a handful of walnuts alongside a plate of Comté (and when I say plate, I mean plate, Jura country doesn't do just a slice or two) and a glass of Jura's vin jaune wine is a traditional way to welcome guests. Here, I wanted to honor that custom, but amped up. This recipe adds a little sweetness, a little salt, and a tad bit of chocolate. The cocoa nibs were inspired by a Cheeesmonger Invitational pairing (by Marnie Clarke of Claremont Cheese who paired Comté with cherry preserves and cocoa nibs) and brings the cheese's silky texture and sweet flavors to the forefront. You'll have extra walnuts. This won't be a problem. Give away or store in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks.
1 egg white 1 teaspoon cocoa powder 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt 2 1/4 cup walnut halves 2 tablespoons raw cocoa nibs Comté slices
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Line a baking tray with a silicon baking sheet or parchment paper.
In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk the egg white until loose. Add the cocoa powder, sugar and salt to the bowl whisk for a minute. Folding into the egg white mix with a spatula, add the walnuts. Once the walnuts are evenly coated, add the cocoa nibs and stir again. Pour the walnuts evenly over the baking sheet and spread out so they're one layer.
Cook for ten minutes, stir, and cook for ten minutes. Remove from the oven, give one final stir, then let cool.