|I’LL MELT WITH YOU: Fruit and cheese, together in memorable grilled ‘wiches like the Apple, Ham and California Cheddar on Sourdough|
|Photo: California Milk Advisory Board|
Cheese and fruit are a match made in panini heaven. A poem about this culinary couple was written more than 100 years ago:
“Apple pie without the cheese…is like a kiss without the squeeze.”
— Park Benjamin Sr., a New York City author and publisher, as cited in an 1889 newspaper account, although no one knows for sure who wrote it.
In such a long-lasting love affair, cheddar and green apple, brie and pear, pineapple and mozzarella, raspberry and Swiss cheese, extra sharp cheddar and mango chutney are matches made in heaven, all.
Call it a study in ‘opposites attract.’ “It's the contrast that people really love,” says Chris Bee, executive chef, Boston University. “The fruit brings out the nutty flavors of the cheese. It's crunchy, sweet, savory and salty all at once.”
Melted sandwiches with added fruit can provide a touch of elegance and value to an already popular type of sandwich, plus the much-sought-after ‘healthy halo.’
One could rhapsodize about this romance for many paragraphs, but in the interest of your lunch rush, here are some practical tips for marrying fruit with cheese for some truly memorable grilled sandwiches.
Using Fresh Fruit
When using fresh fruit as an addition to a grilled sandwich, think about the fruit's texture, Bee says.
“Make sure the fruit is as dry as possible to avoid a mushy sandwich. Peaches have a high moisture content, for example, so you can grill them first. That also adds a great smoky flavor,” he says. “You can dry fruit in an oven under low heat on parchment paper. That helps to concentrate flavors as well.” Grilled mango has a flavor profile tailor-made for grilled sandwiches with a Southwest vibe, Bee adds.
|BETTER TOGETHER: Apples and cheese compliment each other perfectly in this Cheddar and Pear Panini|
|Photo: Cabot Creamery Cooperative|
Raw fruit like apples can be used as-is, thinly sliced, but be careful of their tendency to brown once their skin hits the air. The bright green Granny Smith apples hold up better than mealier-by-nature Red Delicious, says Katie Brucker, a marketer from Chef Nancy Silverton's famed California bread-centric operation, La Brea Bakery.
Another tip: “The secret to avoid browning is to soak apple slices in pineapple water, not lemon water. The pineapple lends a sweetness, along with an acid base to keep the apples from turning brown,” says Scott Anderson, associate director/chef, Shepherd University Dining Services, Shepherdstown, WV. This method works for Asian pears, mandarin oranges, grilled pineapple and even avocado.
Anderson, a Civil War historian who helps put on educational programs and has lectured at the Smithsonian, developed a fruit and cheese sandwich called the General Grant.
“No less than 10 years separated his second term as President of the United States from the devastation of the war and the overabundance of food at his 1873 inauguration,” Anderson wrote in a recent article for The Herald-Mail, Hagerstown, MD.
The General Grant sandwich contains sharp cheddar, brick cheese, Granny Smith slices, red onion and smoked ham. Anderson developed the sandwich “as a tribute to Grant's military service and his fondness for fruit. It's also a nod to some of the main items included in his inaugural celebration.”
In spite of looking back to the Civil War era, the sandwich is prepared at Shepherd Dining Service's ‘Entrée-tainment area,’ tapping into the ‘see food’ trend of more and more items being prepared before customers' eyes whenever possible.
Using Fruit in Chutneys and Purees
Another approach using chutneys, jams and purees, as opposed to fresh fruit, “can tend to hold up better in grilled sandwiches,” Bee says.
Boston University diners snap up the melted perfection of such sandwich combinations as mango chutney with cheddar, the South Campus Jerk, with Major Grey-style mango chutney, sharp provolone and jerk pulled chicken, all on slices of house-made onion focaccia.
Two big food trends — artisanal bread and local cheese — are represented well at BU. The Charles River Bread Co. concept has meant fresh, great quality breads in an array of flavors and styles, and the cheese is from a cheese company that boasts a co-op of about 1,200 dairy farmers across New England. The apples are local, too.
Another tip: “Use bread that's sliced pretty thin,” Bee warns. Otherwise, you'll have a sandwich that's burned-on-the-outside, cold-on-the-inside. (Not so romantic.)
Also, think about the strength of the cheese. “If you pair a bold mango chutney with a Cheddar that's too mild, you'll lose the backbone of what Cheddar cheese really is,” Bee adds.
Another way to get intense fruit flavor in a simple way is to make apple butter/cider reductions to add to grilled sandwiches. The Apple Aioli (see recipe p. 44) makes an appearance on several popular sandwiches at BU, as does an apple vinaigrette added to greens that go on the sandwich, imparting flavor in a different, but still high-impact way.
At the end of the day, the fruit and cheese combination not only endures, but finds ways to keep things fresh.
“Fruit on a panini has a uniqueness that's off the beaten path,” Anderson sums up. “Many people have always loved eating apples with cheese on the side, so why not take it to the next level and put them both on a sandwich?”
“Use Granny Smith apples in paninis. To prevent browning after cutting, soak them in pineapple water, not lemon water. The pineapple lends a sweetness, along with the acid needed to keep the color. This applies to pears, too.”
—Scott Anderson, associate director/chef, Shepherd University Dining Services, Shepherdstown, WV
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