Is there a simpler, more immediate pleasure than eating a just-picked apple? I fondly remember autumn visits to Halsey Farm in Bridgehampton with my preschoolers, where, without a thought or care, we would gobble up McIntoshes and Macouns right there in the orchard.
Recently, I wondered if I was getting the most out of a favorite fall combination, apples and cheese. Was it a mistake to eat a Mutsu instead of a Fuji with my Cheddar? Would an empire make sense with a hunk of Parmesan?
Some research at Cavaniola's Gourmet Cheese Shop in Sag Harbor confirmed that obsessive types like myself could try to match cheese with apples the way we'd match Manchego with a dry Tempranillo or Gruyère with a fruity riesling. Suggesting that he doesn't fuss much with pairings as long as both cheese and apples are of high quality, owner Michael Cavaniola offered the idea of creamy Gorgonzola with Granny Smiths, the acidity of the apples helping to cut through the richness of the cheese. He also likes sweet-tart Pink Ladies with strong Stilton, maybe in a salad.
In general, strong cheeses mellow a bit when paired with sweeter fruit, while mild cheeses become more lively in the presence of tart specimens. Here are some pairing suggestions to get you started:
Mild and nutty cheeses Gouda and Gruyère pair well with tart apples such as Granny Smith, Paula red and Mutsu. Try this combination in an apple, ham and grilled Gouda sandwich.
Washed-rind cheeses Tart apples also bring out the best in buttery, pungent washed-rind cheeses, including Taleggio, robiola and epoisses. Wrap a slice of apple and a slice of cheese inside a slice of prosciutto to enjoy the flavor contrasts.
Soft-ripened cheeses Creamy, mild cheeses such as Camembert and Brie are good with sweet-tart apples such as honeycrisp and Jonagold. To make a Camembert and apple tart, arrange thinly sliced apples on a sheet of puff pastry and sprinkle with sugar. Brush edges with lightly beaten egg. Bake at 400 degrees until the apples are soft, about 20 minutes, top with thin slices of cheese, and return to the oven for a few minutes, until cheese melts.
Fresh, tangy cheeses Goat cheese and feta go nicely with semi-tart apples, including Cortland, Empire and Pink Lady. Try apples and goat cheese on toasted or grilled bread or as a pizza topping. For a little sweetness, add caramelized onions or a drizzle of honey.
Hard, crumbly, salty cheeses Parmesan, Pecorino Romano and asiago are best with the sweetest apples: Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Cameo. One of my favorite fall combinations is a salad of apples, celery root, cubed asiago and walnuts.
Extra-sharp cheese This is another case where sweet apples are best. The sharpness of Cheddar and Stilton is tempered by the sugar in a gala or Red Delicious. Slices of Cheddar served alongside apple pie are the classic example.
APPLE AND CHEDDAR CAKE
As cheese melts, it gets sticky. So, before baking, grease and flour your pan well, even if it has a nonstick surface.
3/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons milk
1 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1 large sweet apple, such as a Gala, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch-round cake pan and dust with flour. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
2. Combine butter and sugar in large mixing bowl and cream until fluffy with electric mixer on medium-high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice, as necessary. With mixer on medium-low, add eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of the bowl after each addition.
3. Turn the mixer to low and add half of the flour mixture. Stir in the milk. Stir in the remaining flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the Cheddar cheese and apple.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, invert it onto a wire rack, and then turn it right-side up on a rack to cool completely. Slice and serve.
Makes 8 servings.