You can keep your chutney. Cheese, for me, is best enjoyed paired with a lusciously ripe piece of sweet fruit to complement its mouth-coating richness and dense, fudgy texture. The exact fruit will depend on the cheese: toffee-scented dates, for example, are best paired with a fairly fresh, tangy cheese like goat’s or feta; stronger, sharper, crumblier cheddars go better with crisp apples or grapes. Having said this, an excellent all-round fruit for pairing with cheese is the pear. Crisp and glassy or soft and yielding in texture, tangy and grassy or delectably syrupy depending on ripeness and variety, there’s a pear to partner almost any cheese you can think of.
This combination can be enjoyed unadorned: a slice of pear, spread with a little piece of cheese, is a simple but lovely thing, and negates the need for crackers, which take up too much stomach space and mean you eat less cheese overall – a definite downside. Bread, however, is more rewarding than crackers, so worth it: a chunk of good sourdough, smeared with a soft blue or goat’s cheese and topped with slivers of glistening pear, will make you wonder why you bother cooking anything more complex, ever. I have also experimented with a dish of creamy blue cheese pasta, bacon, caramelized fennel and pears, and it was one of the best things ever to emerge from my kitchen.
The other night I decided to incorporate this combination into another cheesy, comforting dish: risotto. Although fruit in a risotto might sound odd, this absolutely works. The risotto is tender with a little bite, creamy with stock and butter but permeated by soft, caramelized onion and fennel to keep it earthy and rich against the pear. There’s the perfume of sage and thyme, which work so well with anything creamy, and the tang of blue cheese, stirred through the rice to make it even thicker and creamier. Add some Parmesan, and you have something very deeply savoury. To counteract this, pears are caramelized in a little butter and sugar and finished with a splash of treacly balsamic to keep them sweet and tangy, before topping off the risotto alongside a sprinkling of toasty pine nuts.
If you love risotto, cheese and pears, you need this in your life. I thought about adding bacon, too, and do go ahead if you’re a rampant carnivore, but I don’t actually think this needs it. It’s a deeply satisfying plateful, and great for vegetarians (although use vegetable stock and vegetarian cheese). The combination works so well together, and it’s also rather a pretty plateful to look at, especially if you garnish with extra Parmesan and some fresh thyme leaves. Next time a cheese and fruit craving strikes, and you can be bothered to do more than just put those items unadulterated into your mouth, make this.