Apples hold a special place in my heart during the holiday season. Just like pumpkins, cranberries, gingerbread and eggnog, the inclusion of apples in holiday baking excites and comforts me. From cinnamon apple pies to savory roasted pork tenderloins with apple cider jus, this time of year just wouldn't be the same without apples.
This brilliant fruit with the tart, floral juice is also beautiful to look at. Although we don't get the pleasure of watching the leaves change here in Florida, you can create our own fall masterpiece with a variety of apples and cheeses by simply putting them together on a plate. Apples and cheeses have always been friends, and the combinations of colors, flavors and textures available for pairing during the fall harvest are endless.
The classic pairing of apple and cheddar always proves a success. The two appear together in pie, muffin and galette recipes all season long. Placing them next to one another on a cheese plate enhances the softly stated perfection of each. A crisp, tart Granny Smith will bring out the wild mountain flowers and grassy nuances of most cheddars. Keen's Farmhouse Cheddar from the Somerset region of England has just the right flavor profile for apple pairings. Its recipe, which is over 100 years old, uses raw milk from Friesian-Holstein cows that wander through pastures rich with a variety of grasses. The crunch of a Granny Smith combined with the silky paste of Keen's Cheddar provides a textural play that awakens the tongue to all the deep, earthy complexities of the cheese while balancing the tart flesh of the fruit. Work this pairing even further and pop the top off a Crispin Hard Apple Cider. The dry, refreshing cider cleanses the palate while enhancing the apple flavors, preparing your mouth for the next perfect bite. The hardest part of enjoying this trio is not downing the cider too quickly.
Honeycrisp apples have a special way of playing with blues. Their sweet, understated juice comes to life with a wedge of Great Hill Blue Cheese. A tangy blue with just the right amount of punch, Great Hill has a natural sweetness that a Honeycrisp apple complements. Made from Jersey and Holstein cow milks in a dairy just south of Boston, Great Hill began production in 1996. A sweet Riesling or Viognier will accentuate the way these two tango on your tongue.
The sweetness of a ripe Honeycrisp also works exceptionally well with truffle cheeses like the Italian Sottocenere or the domestic goat cheese from Cypress Grove, Truffle Tremor. Both of these balanced cheeses paired with a Honeycrip will remind you of the sweet enjoyment of eating a caramel-covered apple.
The numerous varieties of apples available this time of year provide a fun learning experience. Stayman Winesap apples work well with tart goat cheeses, while the Claygate Pearmain variety is perfect for Camemberts and Bries. If you come across artisanal apples like a Hudson's Golden Gem, Lady Apple or the more common Mutsu or Gala, then buy one of each and ask your friendly cheesemonger for some pairing suggestions.
Have fun slicing your blushing picks this year, but don't rule out apple jams and chutneys for your holiday cheese plates. The recipe below packs an autumnal punch.
Courtesy: Asbel Reyes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 medium celery stalks
2 cups dried apple, diced
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
1 tablespoon cornstarch (wet slightly to make a slurry)
1 sprig thyme (leaves only)
1. Boil all liquids and sugar together until sugar dissolves.
2. Add celery, dried apples and cornstarch. Simmer for 10-20 min. until desired thickness is reached, then let cool and stir in the thyme. Serve at room temperature. Store in the refrigerator.
Kira Jefferson is the resident "cheese guru" at SideBern's in South Tampa.