Some of the fun in putting together a cheese plate is designing the pairings. Sometimes it's easy to do as any cheese book will tell you what wines to use, and will likely offer the tired old suggestion of putting out dried fruit or nuts. These cheese accouterments are overused and stagnant, like boxes of old clothes in the attic your parents used to wear thirty years ago. Yes, it was cool back then and might be nifty for a party, but lets just retire them. And not to knock the honey-blue cheese pairing but, God, can we find something else? Can we? (I did. Try sprinkling a bit of saba - a syrup created from grape must - over it. Outrageously good.)
Recently, I was turned onto something delightfully new by my friend Kirsten over at the blog, It's Not You, It's Brie: preserved walnuts.
Preserved walnuts are an Armenian delicacy that are just now making their way to the U.S. hardcore foodie mainstream (it's a very small stream, more like a maincreek behind your aunt's house in the country). The walnuts are picked young, very young. Younger than when you would pick them for Nocino. They're picked when the shells are still quite soft and have the texture mature walnut, and baby walnut inside is soft and mellow. They're then packed in sugar, water, and lemon juice and set to preserve for a very long time.
The result are small, ebony spheres of intrigue. They have the taste of a walnut, but softer, sweeter, and more velvety. Not nearly as earthy but with a flavor that can only be described as woodsy. It's the sort of dessert you might picture out of a fairy tale. While it looks like a dessert of the evil stepmother, it's a delicacy fit for a fairy godmother.
The preserving syrup is epic on it's own merits. My future plans involve dripping some over a blue cheesecake or a walnut tart. I can only imagine what a skilled mixologist would do with it; I imagine a dash of the syrup with some chocolate liquor would be phenomenal.
I plan to serve these delightful little walnuts with some aged Dry Jack cheese, a cheese known for its walnut profile; and alongside some Oregonzola, in lieu of honey. The sweet and nutty flavors should shine well against the sting of a blue cheese and snuggle up nicely to any nutty cheeses, like Comté or Jack.