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Say Cheese: great apple pairings

Couple them with Jonagold and Suncrisp apples: Kerrygold Aged Cheddar with Irish Whiskey (in black wax), St. Agur Blue, Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson -- Marcona almonds, too. (Domenica Marchetti)

Apples and cheese were one of my favorite snacks when I was growing up. Back then it was a simple pairing. I just grabbed whichever apple happened to be in the fruit drawer of our fridge and whatever hunk of cheddar was in the cheese drawer. It was usually a sharp, black-wax-coated wedge of white New York cheddar, creamy and a little crumbly, a good all-purpose companion to any apple.

Nowadays, things are a little more complicated. Not only do we have a nearly infinite selection of great cheese to pair with fall fruits; we also have all of the wonderful varieties of apples that right now are the stars of the farmers markets: tart McIntosh, sweet-tart Honeycrisps and Suncrisps, plus JonaGolds, Mutsus, Galas and more. Which goes with which? If you think about it too much, it can be overwhelming.

Thankfully, I happened to find just the right person to help me sort through the many options and come up with some really thoughtful pairings. The other day I happened to be talking with Harry Silverstein. He is co-owner of Red, White & Bleu, a Falls Church wine and cheese shop. I came across the shop’s Web site by accident and decided to contact him. When I mentioned I was writing about cheeses that go with apples, he offered some suggestions, which he later sent to me in an e-mail. His recommendations were spot-on (and happily include some cheese and pear combos), so I am entering them here just as he wrote them to me:

1. Saint Agur Blue. A blue cheese made from pasteurized cow's milk from the village of Monts du Velay, the mountainous Auvergne region of central France. It is made from pasteurized cow's milk, enriched with cream, and contains 60 percent butterfat qualifying it as a double-cream cheese.
We recommend pairing Saint Agur with a ripe, sweet pear, either an Anjou or a Bosc. The sweetness in this delicious fruit combines beautifully with the sharpness of the blue cheese.

2. Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson. Styled after the Italian Taleggio or French Livarot but with rich Jersey milk and a longer aging time. Grayson is rich, beefy and very pungent.
We recommend pairing this with a crisp Granny Smith apple. The acidity in the fruit cuts the richness of the cheese and helps clear the palate.

3. Cacio, Pecorino al Tartufo. We like this one because the truffle flavor is honest, not synthetic-tasting, and it doesn't overwhelm the goodness of the cheese. Rather, the ingredients blend together superbly, making for a beautiful balance between garlicky truffle and nutty, sweet, almost caramelized aged sheep's milk.
We recommend pairing this with a sweet ripe apple such as a Honeycrisp or Jonagold. The resulting marriage is slightly reminiscent of a caramel apple.

4. Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. Nancy’s Camembert. A creamy, soft-ripened cheese made from the milk of the Old Chatham Shepherding Company's herd of 100 East Fresian sheep, combined with a neighboring farm's hormone-free cow's milk. A gold medal recipient at the 2007 World Cheese Awards, Nancy's Camembert is meltingly smooth and buttery with the texture of a triple-creme.
We recommend pairing this with any of the fall fruits. The cheese is silky in texture, smooth and has a slight earthiness and bite. It would go well with a sweet or tart apple or your favorite type of pear.

In addition to Silverstein’s suggestions, several friends of mine also chimed in. Here are a couple from my friend Don Lesser, who lives in New England and writes the food blog

* "Soft blue cheese. Not Maytag, not Danish, not commercial. Berkshire Blue from Pittsfield, Mass.
* Aged Gouda. Hot almonds (toasted whole for 5 minutes) go great."

From my friend Mary Lou Heiss, another New Englander: "I love semi-firm Vermont goat and sheep’s milk cheeses like [those from] Consider Bardwell Farm, Vermont Shepherd, and Orb Weaver Farm. And chilled semi-dry hard cider from Farnum Hill in New Hampshire.”

And my neighbor Anne Burling, who grew up in Madison, Wis.: Sharp cheddar, and I mean the real thing from Wisconsin.”

To these I will add a trio of my own favorites:

* Fontina Val d’Aosta: its dense paste and nutty flavor make it one of my favorite cheeses to pair with apples.

* Kerrygold Aged Cheddar with Whiskey: How clever are the Irish? I’d been eyeing this one for awhile and it struck me that it might be a good mate for apples. It is. It has a creamy texture, a distinct whisky aroma and smoky undertones. I would like to officially state that I prefer my whiskey in a cheese.

* English Seaside Cheddar: I first tasted this at Whole Foods a couple of years ago. It has become a regular at our house. I love the crunchiness of the protein crystals and the cheese’s sweet-sharpness. It is a little reminiscent of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

As for apples, I like any of the above cheeses with most apples. But my all-time favorite apple is the GoldRush, a cultivar developed by the cooperative breeding program of Purdue University, Rutgers University and the University of Illinois. It is a late-season apple, intensely sweet and tart at the same time, with dense, juicy flesh and gorgeous rosy-gold skin. If you happen upon GoldRush at your local farmers market, grab a handful. They are apple perfection, especially with a little wedge of blue or cheddar.

What are your favorite apple-cheese combos?

-- Domenica Marchetti

By The Food Section  |  October 20, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, apples, cheese  
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I love apples with clothbound cheddar, like Cabot's or Grafton Village's. Anything intensely creamy, like Chaource, is delicious with apples, too, because you can spread it right onto the slice.

Posted by: golda78 | October 20, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

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