Despite being available in patriotic red, white, and blue, the currant is just starting to catch on in the United States after being plagued by a poor reputation for nearly a century. In the early 1900s, the country’s booming timber industry was threatened by a fungus carried by blackcurrants, resulting in a ban on the plant’s cultivation. In the place of this nutritious berry (the antioxidant-rich blackcurrant has as much vitamin C as an orange and as much vitamin K as a cranberry), came a pretender—the Zante currant; not, in fact, a currant, but merely a small, dried grape. Don’t be fooled!
Happily, the currant ban was lifted in 2003, so Americans can now enjoy the sweet-and-sour flavor with abandon. And happier still, the berries prove a worthy partner for cheese. (After all, currants and fresh cheese work in tandem as the filling for the classic Yorkshire Curd Tart.)
Fresh blackcurrants deliver a lightning bolt of tart fruit flavor, followed by an herbaceous finish. This potency pairs well with creamy, bold cheeses like Cornish Yarg and Vacherin Mont d’Or. Also try Lancashire or Wensleydale, sharp cheeses that can hold their own against the feisty berry. Another alternative is to soak the currants in a sweet wine or sherry (p. 66) to serve as an accompaniment to a rich blue.
Currants, with their acidity and generous pectin, are a natural choice for preserves. While blackcurrants can be scarce in supermarkets, look for a pint of the more prevalent red variety at farmers’ markets or specialty foods stores. Redcurrants make for a sweet, slightly tart jam that marries well with a rich, satiny, bloomy rind like Marin French Double Crème Brie or a thistle-rennet wheel like Torta de La Serena. If you can track down some blackcurrant jelly, match its sharpness with a spicy blue like Valdeón.
Marin French Double Crème Brie + redcurrant jam
La Caseria Valdeón + blackcurrant jelly
When you taste a gooseberry, you’re biting into the currant family. The wild red fruits are soft and sweet when ripe, but they are often picked early, when they resemble hairy, greenish grapes and boast a vivid acidity. Try pickling them and pairing with a hard sheep’s milk cheese like Berkswell—the grainy, muttony qualities contrast with the clean astringency of the pickled berry. If all this tart talk is making you wince, sweeten the issue with jostaberries. A cross between a blackcurrant and a gooseberry, the jostaberry tastes like a sweeter black-currant when ripe.
Ram Hall Farm Berkswell + pickled gooseberries
Wensleydale Creamery Kit Calvert Old-Style Wensleydale Cheese + jostaberries