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Being a journalist can be a thankless job. So when the occasional perk comes my way, I bounce off the walls like a kid in a candy store. In this case, the candy was cheese and my Willy Wonka was Patty Church.

Church is the in-house authority on cheeses at Carlino’s Specialty Foods & Catering in West Chester. And as she helped me select what I needed for this month’s Dining Guide, I nibbled my way through almost a dozen imports while listening to her wax poetic about their nutty, creamy, pungent, sweet, caramelized characteristics. Suddenly, I was momentarily transported to France, where I’d spent a month as an exchange student in high school, returning with several extra pounds de fromage to burn off at the gym.

Just a few doors down at Éclat Chocolate, senior editor Tara Behan was enjoying a few perks of her own as she interviewed owner and master chocolatier Chris Curtain, renowned for spinning cocoa into gold using some of the world’s finest ingredients. One bite of his dark-chocolate-covered caramels sprinkled with sea salt will have you swooning.

Ah, life’s simple pleasures: cheese, chocolate and wine—stalwarts of the culinary good life, which is easier to attain than you might think. With help from local sommeliers and wine consultants, we show you how to design and stock the wine cellar of your dreams, orchestrate a superb wine-and-cheese tasting or host a fabulous event at one of the Main Line’s most glamorous private dining rooms. And lest you think this month’s Dining Guide is for connoisseurs only, let it be known that I passionately support an egalitarian approach to enjoyment that encompasses all tastes and budgets. I may lust after those dreamy Éclat caramels, but I’m equally partial to peanut M&Ms.

And with Valentine’s Day coming soon, I’d be remiss in ignoring the symbiotic nature of food and love—two pleasures that increase exponentially when shared. Elsewhere in this issue, Behan uncovers the nuances of marital bliss as told by four couples at different stages in their relationships. And in this month’s Living Well section, Stacia Friedman tackles the dicey topic of all-natural aphrodisiacs. (Note: Behan’s piece kicks off a series of relationship stories slated for future issues. Next up in May, mothers and daughters.)

And back to those perks. I had the pleasure of joining students at Merion Mercy Academy in December as they hosted former American Idol finalist Kellie Pickler. I knew nothing about Pickler going into the private concert, but the power and optimism she conveyed on stage were truly impressive—and it all made me wish my own daughters were there to witness her performance. I also discovered a few things about a school I didn’t know much about—one that’s obviously been successful at something the Main Line is known for: turning out happy kids.

 

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