The Chef Is In: Fig and Date Night
August 19, 2005

Hi Keckler-

I never really thought I’d have a reason to write you, because I usually prefer playing with foods myself. But I am currently at a loss foodwise. My parents recently went to a wedding in Sonoma and returned with a fig and date balsamic vinegar from the Viansa Winery.

Honestly I have no idea what to do with it. They suggest using it with pork and salmon steaks but we are Jewish so pork is out, and I think cooked salmon is one of the most evil substances on the planet (it’s so fishy and gross, in fact the only way I like salmon is in lox or sushi forms, but that is neither here nor there.) I have a feeling this vinegar would be nummy with goat cheese or something, but I could just use a nudge in the right direction for how to play with it.

Thanks so much,


Dear Jenn,

Ooh! Ooh! I simply adore fig and/or date balsamic vinegar -- it's part of one of my ultimate summer dishes.

You're right on track with the goat cheese idea. However, when you ask for goat cheese in a cheese shop, you're just as likely to get something hard and aged as you are something softer, fresh, and crumbly. Personally, I like the latter -- the chèvre variety -- for the dish I'm about to suggest. Slice up some peaches, crumble some chèvre, and lightly splash everything with the vinegar. The tangy vinegar brings out the sweetness of the peaches and, even if the peaches aren't totally ripe (I'm currently mourning the rapidly approaching end of the peach season), they still will have enough flavor to balance the dish.

Another fruit and cheese pairing I have in mind might be a bit crazy for some people. I've recently become addicted to watermelon and hard cheese. Not separately, together. As one. Normally, I am fairly meh about watermelon. It's bland -- I like my fruits powerful, tangy, and bursting with bold flavors. Not water. Get some slices of watermelon, grate thin shards of a hard cheese over it -- pecorinos, Gruyère, or an aged goat cheese are all good choices -- and again splash with the fig and date balsamic vinegar. The saltiness of the cheese is a lovely foil with the watermelon and the vinegar adds a new level of flavor.

It is too bad you don't like grilled salmon because I think it is the only fish that would hold up well to the strong flavors of the balsamic vinegar, which would definitely overwhelm lighter, more delicate fish like snapper, cod, or halibut. On the other hand, you can get all Moroccan and brush the vinegar on lamb chops just before grilling or broiling or marinate flank steak in it. Then again, you did say you like salmon in the raw, so think about brushing the balsamic vinegar on top of some lox after layering the salty fish on a bagel and cream cheese. Lord -- I think I'm going to have to go try that right now!



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