Last year, I finally made good on my lifelong love of cheese and started working through a series of cheese mongering certifications. A lot of my classwork is dedicated to understanding the complexity of cheesemaking and the scientific processes underlying the industry's best practices. But there's a lot of taste-testing involved, too.
Once every few weeks, I'll visit my local cheese shop and pick a couple wedges of whatever looks best that day. After sampling the cheese as-is and noting its attributes and flavors in this dorky log I keep (a notebook with "Cheese!" scrawled on the front), I tend to move on to fruit pairings.
One of my instructors told the class that the "right pairing can elevate the cheese and the fruit and unlock unexpected nuances in both ingredients." That sentiment feels especially true in the summer, when most of North America is faced with a bounty of seasonal produce.
Here are some of the best summer fruit and cheese pairings I've found.
The best peaches are packed with a sweet, amber-colored juice that is really distinctive, so it's best not to have it compete with more pungent cheeses. Instead, pair peaches with a young, soft goat cheese. For a simple snack or lunch, spread the goat cheese on a nice crusty piece of toast. Top with segmented peach slices and roughly chopped thyme.
William Carlos Williams wrote an entire poem about the refreshing nature of icebox-chilled plums. When fresh and cool, their flesh has a subtly sweet snap that pairs surprisingly well with firm blue cheeses. To round out the combination, drizzle both with smoky hot honey.
As part of their summer releases, many Wisconsin creameries, including Maple Leaf Cheese and Renard's Artisan Cheeses, produce cherry-studded white cheddars. They know the buttery tang of white cheddar and the tartness of Wisconsin cherries are a natural match. Capture that magic in your own kitchen by serving the two alongside each other.
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When you think of summer cheese plates, watermelon may not come to mind as a fruit to include. But one of the best summer flavor pairings is juicy, slightly sour watermelon with briny feta. Look for a full-fat feta; the low-fat stuff occasionally borders on chalky. Both melon and feta are elevated by a few sprigs of mint and a little lemon zest.
Honeydew melons and cantaloupes
Halloumi, which is sometimes marketed as "grilling cheese," is traditionally made by mixing goat's and sheep's milk, resulting in a pretty tangy cheese. Cheesemongers describe its texture as "squeaky" (think of fresh cheese curds!), so I like to pair it with firm melon varieties, like honeydew and cantaloupes, so neither ingredient gets lost on the plate.
Syrupy, aromatic blackberries and nutty manchego — made from the milk of the Manchega sheep — were made for each other. If you want to build a salad around this winner of a flavor combination, keep it simple by tossing them with peppery arugula and a citrus-forward vinaigrette.
Sometimes I like to reverse-engineer fruit and cheese pairings by starting with an unexpected cheeseboard condiment. One of my favorites this season is a really good balsamic glaze. Fruit-wise, the vinegary sweetness of balsamic really makes strawberries' more saccharine sweetness pop; its acidity also cuts through super rich cheeses, like burrata. Combine the three of them — plus a little fresh basil and a sprinkle of good salt — for an unforgettable side dish.
Even sweet grapes, which are prevalent in the summer, have a subtle sour bite to them. That complexity of flavor means you can pair them with an equally nuanced cheese. Try a strong aged gouda. As gouda ages, it develops a milky-caramel taste with smoky undertones that won't overpower early-season fruit.
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