They grew from the tree that shrouded Buddha as he attained enlightenment; their leaves concealed Adam and Eve from indecency in the Garden of Eden; and their fiddle-leaf fig tree cousin now brightens waiting rooms across America. The fig, supple and forgiving, is as restorative as it is flavorful. Packed with vitamins and minerals, the fruit was prescribed to the sick by Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, and modern doctors might recommend the dried variety to keep you, ahem, regular.
Fresh figs are a delicacy, and their brief shelf life makes them even more special. Tiny, edible seeds lend them a unique texture. Mixed with sugar over flame then reduced, figs transform into a batch of rich, syrupy jam or preserves. Dried figs have staying power; they make a great addition to raw desserts or energy bars and can fulfill your general snacking needs. And lest we forget about the humble Fig Newton, packed in many an American lunchbox (perhaps alongside a cheese stick). With varying textures and flavors, these culinary chameleons offer up plenty of pairing possibilities.
The ever-so-slight acidity of fresh figs is enough to cut through creamier cheeses like brie, according to Natalie Green, cheesemonger at Curds & Co. in Brookline, Massachusetts. When the soft figs are layered with that lusciousness, it’s best to add something crunchy to the mix; use a slice of baguette as a base, then top the pairing with slivered almonds. Or place fresh figs under the broiler and gild with goat cheese and a drizzle of honey for a simple–yet–stunning dessert.
Jasper Hill Farm Moses Sleeper + fresh figs
Sèvre & Belle Le Chevrot + fresh figs
If you love to mix salty and sweet (and who doesn’t), dried figs should be your go-to. Top a piece of crispy pancetta with aged goat cheese and a dried fig and let the fireworks begin. Or try stuffing a dried fig with gorgonzola, top with a walnut, and then drizzle with aged balsamic. Drooling yet?
Hervé Mons Bethmale Chèvre + dried figs
Gorgonzola Dolce PDO + dried figs
These figs are the sweetest of the bunch—cheese-wise, it’s time to go big or go home. Layer fig preserves, blue cheese, and a thin slice of green apple on a crisp cracker. Or slather orange-fig jam on an entire disk of brie, then bake. Small-batch preserves purveyor Doves and Figs makes a standout version from a mix of apple, dried Mission figs, oranges, and Taza Chocolate. Green pairs this one with a silky, soft-ripened sheep’s milk cheese.
Sweet Grass Dairy Asher Blue + fig preserves
Fromagerie Guilloteau Brebirousse d’Argental + Doves and Figs Chocolate Fig Sunshine