This is the first post of a new series called the Perfect Match. Periodically I’ll be sharing some great food & food pairings as well as food & wine suggestions. I think we all can agree that when you eat something amazing, and then find another food that perfectly complements it, the result is crazy good. And for those even more rare occasions when you’re lucky enough to elevate that pairing to the next level with a phenomenal wine; the end result is off-the-charts good.
So is the food nirvana for me with fresh figs and Ricotta Salata. The earthiness, sweetness and softness of the figs is nicely counter-balanced with the firm, salty tang of the Ricotta Salata. The best flavors of each are amplified when the two come together. Simply shave a few slices of cheese off the wedge and place on a fig half. Couldn’t be easier or more delicious! And with figs on the cusp of being in full-fledged season, what better time to revel in these two gastronomically delightful delicacies.
First, a bit about figs. There are several varieties growing where I live:
Black Mission: these are the most popular commercially and one of my favorites. Deep purple to black with a bright pink flesh. The flavor is earthy, sweet-tart and the tannins from fruit enable it to be a very wine-friendly food. This variety is available mid-May through November.
Brown Turkey: a lighter purple – black color and have a similar pink flesh on the interior. They have a more intense “figgy” flavor as compared to Black Mission and notes of hazelnuts in the finish. Brown Turkey’s are delicious fresh or dried. Almost ever-bearing, this variety is available mid-May through December.
Kadota: very pale yellow to green in color these are not as commonly seen commercially as their two darker counterparts. When the fig ripens, the skin turns a beautiful amber color and this particular variety is almost seedless, making it the ideal candidate for drying, canning, or jams. The thick skin houses a light pink and sweet pulp. Limited window of availability June- October.
Calimyrna: Large and pale yellow skinned figs with a nutty, sweet flavor. These are typically eaten dried as their fig-flavor and sweetness intensifies as the pulp dehydrates. They have a very limited window of availability from July through September, hence the propensity of this variety typically eaten dried. Read more about Figs in California.
Say hello to Ricotta Salata. This cheese is so good, yet so under-utilized. Made from Ricotta, it’s a pressed, salted, dried, and aged variety of the cheese. It is milky-white and firm, and used for grating or shaving. Originally from Sicily, Ricotta Salata is sold in wheels, decorated by a delicate basket-weave pattern. It’s typically used when you want to introduce a salty flavor to a pasta dish or salads (both greens and fruit based). I personally love to nibble on this delicious sheep’s milk cheese with fresh figs (of course), cantaloupe, or crumble over a bowl of fresh strawberries drizzled with balsamic- yum!!
Now to kick it up a notch: the wine pairing.
Whites: I recommend a Riesling, Champagne/Cava/Prosecco or Pinot Gris. For all of the above wines, you’ll want to find offerings of those varieties with a slight RS (wine-speak for residual sugar) to elevate the sweetness of the fig and off-set the acidity of the cheese. You could do a Late Harvest Semillon or Late Harvest Riesling, just be sure it isn’t too sweet or cloying as it will over power the pairing.
For the bubble lovers (like me!) I suggest a Spanish Cava (light, floral aromas, citrus notes on the palate). Look for a Brut Cava —that has 0-12 g/l residual sugar so it’s not sweet, but not totally “dry'” either. An Italian Prosecco made from the Glera grape has loads of fresh & bright aromatics, notes of stone fruit and flowers on the palate. These wines have become lower in sugar over time as compared to the Proseccos of yester-year, but you’ll still find them a tad sweeter than traditional French Champagne.
If you choose a Pinot Gris, please be sure it’s an Alsatian style, not an Italian Pinot Grigio. A true Pinot Gris will have elements of spice notes and slight oak or neutral barrel aging to create a fuller mouth-feel. Italian Pinot Grigios (although made from the same Pinot Gris grape) are typically stainless steel fermented which yields a much tighter, astringent, less full-bodied wine and it will fight with the inherent acidity in the cheese.
Reds: My ideal partner for this dish would be one of the red wines of Tuscany such as Sangiovese, Chianti and my all-time favorite, the heavy-hitting Brunello. But for this pairing Sangiovese is probably the best match as the grape has a naturally higher acidity level than other red varietals, making it a good foil to the sweetness of the fig and saltiness of the cheese.
Another fabulous pairing would be the Tuscan-exclusive Vin Santo. This is a wonderful dessert wine made from dried Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca grapes. It dates back to the Renaissance days where it was used as a sacramental sweet wine. This nutty-tasting elixir is similar to a sherry in aromatics and viscosity and will vary in levels of sweetness, depending on the mix of grapes used and the producer. It’s meant to be consumed with Cantucci , a heavenly biscotti-like biscuit with almonds for dunking in the wine.
Final thought: do try this pairing of figs and Ricotta Salata and you will have a new found appreciation for them both. And perhaps give one of the recommended wines a whirl & swirl as well. Then let me know what your Perfect Match is. Cheers!