In our house dessert is usually a piece of fruit. But now that the weather is turning cooler, cheese, especially aged cheese, is making a reappearance on the dinner table. It’s a great way to end off a meal and, of course, fruit and cheese are a divinely inspired combination. And by far the best fruit to eat with cheese are pears. In fact, the combination is so good that there is an old saying in Italian that goes:
Al contadino non far sapere,
Quant’è buono il cacio con le pere!
which means, “don’t let the farmer know how good cheese is with pears!”–the idea being that, if the farmers knew, they’d keep all the cheese (and pears) for themselves! The saying, by the way, is cited in John Dickey’s fascinating and provocative Delizia! The Epic History of Italians and Their Food as an example of how, despite its rustic reputation, Italian cooking is essential urban in its origins. (By therein lies another post…)
In any event, tonight’s delightful conspiracy against the peasantry consisted of some beautifully spottled, sweet pears from the farmers’ market and a wedge of St. Agur, a fabulous blue cheese from Auvergne. I adore blue cheeses, especially creamy blue cheeses, but this was the first time I had tasted this particular one. It was not too mild, not too sharp–and with pears it was truly sublime.
All sorts of aged cheese go well with pears. I particularly like blues, and until tonight my favorite was gorgonzola. Parmesan is a classic with pears. Personally, I would avoid cheeses that are either too mild like fontina, which would not provide sufficient contrast with the subtle sweetness of the pears, or too sharp, like pecorino romano, which would overwhelm the pears. (On the other hand, a less salty pecorino, like the percorino toscano, would be lovely.)
When fresh walnuts in the shell appear in the markets, they make for a perfect complement to both cheese and pear. After eating just those three, simple things and sipping a round red wine, I would be perfectly happy to bid farewell to this vale of tears…