You say “on-deev,” I say “on-dive”. . . and you’d be right. That is, as long as you’re talking about Belgian endive (a.k.a. French endive), the tight head of soft leaf spears beloved in Europe and catching on as a delicious, versatile veggie in the United States. Grown in a labor-intensive, two-step process (first in the field for rootstock, then in dark, cool, humid forcing rooms to produce the head), Belgian endive is the second growth of the chicory root. Lightly bitter and velvety soft, yet strong enough to use in place of chips for dips and toss like lettuce in salads, it can also be braised, roasted, baked, and grilled.
California Endive Farms (CEF) is the only Belgian endive grower in the US, producing about 4.5 million pounds per year. “It’s a rather long chain of important steps that need to go well to render a quality product,” says CEF owner Rich Collins. “We produce a white veggie. If it has a problem, it’s very apparent . . . there’s no place to hide!”
“My favorite ways to eat endive are raw in a salad or as an appetizer in lieu of crackers,” says CEF marketing assistant—and Collins’ daughter—Molly Collins. Read on for several of her pairing creations.
Served raw, endive has a slightly bitter edge that counterbalances creamy cheeses such as chèvre, yet it also stands up to saltier, more robust cheeses like blues and feta. Spread cheese and any other accompaniments inside the concave leaf for an elegant, velvety-textured bread or cracker substitute. Voilà!
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese
raw endive, sliced pear, and roasted walnuts
Redwood Hill Farm Fresh Chèvre
raw endive, salted pistachios, and drizzled honey
Sheep’s milk feta
raw endive, arugula, chopped peaches, slivered almonds, and vinaigrette
Heating endive tends to mellow the bitterness, producing an even softer, more subtle veggie that’s enhanced by a sprinkling or shaving of sharper cheeses—or complemented by a soft, rich cheese melted on top.
Vermont Creamery Coupole
Ambrosi White Gold Parmigiano Reggiano
This article originally appeared in our 2015 Cheese+ ultimate Pairings issue. If you’d like to see all 26 amazing cheese pairings, purchase a copy today!