Exotic fruits hold a certain mysterious prestige. We often refer to less-familiar varieties such as dragon fruit, guava, and finger limes as rare, classifying themas inaccessible unless, perhaps, we are enjoying an indulgent breakfast on a vacation to the places where they grow.
At first taste, some of these fruits present us with a blanketed sweetness—familiar but with a twist of flavor that we can’t quite put our finger on. Others hit our tastebuds with a tartness and acidity that we didn’t see coming. Still others have an unfamiliar funk that draws us in, though we know that full enjoyment is going to take some repeat encounters. Either way, it is easy to be intrigued by the mystery that surrounds how they taste and where they have come from.
In reality these fruits are not as exotic as they may have been in the past. In California and Florida, rare fruit growers’ associations and clubs create networks of adventurous small farmers who are experimenting with new varieties and exploring whether exotic fruits can thrive beyond their locations of origin. Ron Couch is a member of California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG), a national organization, despite the name, and the editor of its bi-monthly magazine, Fruit Gardener. “It has become a mission for CRFG to raise the awareness of amateur and commercial growers alike to the existence of fruits to which they may not have before been exposed,” he says.
On a cheese board, exotic fruits remain an unusual choice. But they deserve a place among more familiar accompaniments because they carry many of the same characteristics that we look for in well-crafted cheeses, offering cryptic sweetness, a funky, earthy bite, and a pleasantly surprising mouthfeel.
Including exotic fruits in your cheese pairings can be palate relief for the dreary days of winter when your tastebuds may have been weighed down by heavy comfort foods. Their bright, lively flavors stand up to strong-flavored cheeses, and balance the richness of creamy types. Fruit such as finger limes, guava, passion fruit, and dragon fruit can find their perfect pairing among bold blue cheeses, delicate chèvre and fromage blanc, sharp cheddars, or cheeses infused with notes of honey and vanilla. Take a trip to the tropics with these matchups:
ROGUE CREAMERY ROGUE RIVER BLUE + PASSION FRUIT
A perfectly ripe purple passion fruit has as much sweetness as tartness. The balance creates a distinct sour that is quite calm as the jelly-like fruit melts away in the mouth leaving tender, edible seeds. This blue cheese is carefully aged, then wrapped in Syrah grape leaves that have been soaked in organic pear liqueur. The result is a cheese that matches the boldness of the fruit while offering a rich, creamy-smooth character and a slight sweetness that tames the tart and leaves you with lingering passion fruit flavor on the palate.
BEEHIVE CHEESE POUR ME A SLICE + GUAVA
Fresh guava offers a tender, sweet, and slightly funky flesh studded with edible seeds. Its aromatic quality makes it a good partner to the vanilla notes present in this aged cheddar infused with Kentucky bourbon. The sweetness of the cheese along with a delicate sharpness match the tropical flavor and the musky, floral character of the fruit.
VERMONT CREAMERY BIJOU + FINGER LIMES
Finger limes have an acidic bite that is exotically pleasant in small doses. When squeezed, the fruit erupts with small pearls of citrus. The tangy character of this goat cheese and its creamy, velvety texture meets the caviar-like pearls, then tames their acidity for a beautiful blend of flavors and a surprising mouthfeel.
STEPLADDER CREAMERY FROMAGE BLANC + DRAGON FRUIT
While dragon fruit also comes in white and yellow, nothing pleases the tastebuds or the eyes more than the pink variety. It’s sweet with a high water content that mimics the consistency of ripe melons, a juiciness that allows it to pair so well with this light, airy and moisture-rich cheese. The tanginess of the cheese and the sweetness of the fruit create a refreshing blend on the palate.