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Autumn teammates: fresh fruit, cheese, and wine.

CHEESE AND FRUIT costar with ease as an elegant but simple end to a meal, or, on a larger scale, as the heart of a quickly presented light party menu. And there is no better time to explore this combination than now; fall fruits are exceptionally suited to cheese partners.

Well-stocked supermarkets offer an extensive selection of precut or small whole cheeses; many also cut cheese to order. For more variety, check with cheese shops and delicatessens.

Options for presentation range from a single cheese and fruit to a variety of both.

An ounce of cheese and a piece of fruit make an adequate dessert, but chances are you'll want a more generous look, especially at a tasting party. Leftovers can always be enjoyed another day.



Consider at least one example from each category; if some are not available, ask for a cheese that is similar.

Fresh cheeses. Instead of being aged, these are eaten when less than a month old. They are characterized by a delicate, clean flavor and are soft enough to spread. Serve in bowls or, if firm enough, swirled into mounds. Spread on unsalted crackers or slices of fruit. Often, a bit of apricot or plum jam enhances these cheeses.

Choices made from cow's milk include fine-grained ricotta (low-fat and whole-milk varieties), quark (like smooth cottage cheese with a little tang, sold in tubs or cartons), rich mascarpone (high fat, delicate tang; it spoils quickly--cheese should be fresh-smelling), and even cream cheese. There are also fresh goat cheeses (cheveres), some plain, some seasoned with herbs. All goat cheeses have a distinct piquancy.

Soft and semisoft cheeses. As these age and ripen, the texture softens and gets creamier, and flavors develop aromatic complexity. When ready to eat and at room temperature, they should feel soft when pressed and may be slightly runny. If firm when bought, let stand at room temperature for up to 2 days, then chill, if needed, to hold 1 or 2 days.

Readily available ones include rind-ripened brie made of cow's milk (there's also goat brie, which is sharper), camembert, taleggio (resembles brie in texture, but has a milder flavor), port salut, teleme, and stronger-flavored livarot, reblochon, and Pont l'Eveque.

Blue cheeses. These cheeses range from crumbly and sharp to smooth and subtle. Roquefort is the boldest; creamier blue cheeses include blue castello, sweet gorgonzola or regular gorgonzola (sharper flavor), and saga blue and cambozola (both have enough butterfat to fit the next category).

Triple-cream cheeses. These cheeses are about 70 percent butterfat and are extremely smooth and creamy. Examples are Brillat-Savarin (mild), l'explorateur and St. Andre (both slightly piquant), and boursault.



Apples. Tarter varieties make a crisp contrast for triple creams; sweeter apples suit soft, semisoft, and blue cheeses.

Asian pears. Crisp, they are refreshing matched with soft, semisoft, and blue cheeses.

Figs. Their sweetness is best complemented by mascarpone or quark with a little sugar or tart jam.

Grapes. Versatile, they go well with all the preceding cheeses. But stronger-flavored cheeses go best with red flame grapes.

Pears. Their sweetness and buttery texture are particularly suited to soft and semisoft cheeses, especially the stronger ones, and blue cheeses.

Plums. Choose juicy red-skinned varieties; cut in half and top with mild fresh cheeses (with perhaps a dusting of sugar), especially mascarpone or cream cheese. Also try them with l'explorateur.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1991
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