Fresh From the Farm – Katie Malich

I had the perfect pear the other day. There’s no other word to describe it. Perfect. It was a Farmer’s Market, of course.

I’d bought some Bartletts at Ha’s Orchard stand. The pears were firm and green, even though they’d been picked after they’d grown to their full, mature size. That was fine with me. Pears are actually better when picked green and allowed to ripen on the counter or in the refrigerator. During that time, pears’ starches begin to turn into sugar and their gritty, hard texture becomes soft and juicy. After three days on the counter, my pears began to turn from green to yellow. They were firm to the touch but no longer rock hard. The first pear I ate was pretty darn good. It had softened and the texture was pleasant. It tasted good. Definitely an 85 out of 100. The next day, I ate a second pear. Absolute perfection. Juicy, fragrant, sublime. Waiting that extra day did the trick. My only regret was that I didn’t buy more.

Did you know that pears ripen from the inside out? If you wait until the entire pear is soft to the touch, you could end up with a disappointingly overripe and browning interior. And if you wait until there’s a change in color, you might well be waiting a long time. Bartletts are the only North American variety to change color as they ripen. Other heirloom varieties, Bosc, Anjou, Seckel, Comice and Forelle, have little if any change in color.

A better way to check for ripeness is to see if the stem end of the pair yields gently to pressure. Checking the neck, some call it. When the neck, or stem end, stops resisting the pressure of a finger, it means the interior texture is no longer hard and gritty. If I want pears to eat immediately, I’ll buy the softer ones, and treat them carefully as I bring them home. Ripe pears can easily bruise, as I’ve found out to my sorrow. If I’m buying for the week, I’ll buy some hard pears and some not-so-hard pears.

Nothing beats a perfectly ripened fresh pear. Except, perhaps, for a perfectly ripe pear paired (pun intended) with sharp or strongly flavored cheese.

Laurent Bonjour, whose white cheese truck is a fixture at the Culver Boulevard end of the Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market, is my go-to-guy for imported cheeses. I’ve never been disappointed with any of the cheeses he’s suggested. With the addition of Soledad Goat Cheese to our weekly vendors, the downtown market offers even more variety for cheese aficianados. Last week, I picked up some fresh goat cheese, and have been savoring it with my apples and pears.

It’s easy to prepare a cheese and pear platter. I’m grateful that I can make it ahead of time so I can relax and enjoy time with my guests. I find the combination of Bosc pears with camembert to be divine. But why stop at one pairing? The creamier, less aromatic Brie is always a great hit and would go well with sweet but not too assertive Angou pears. Gorgonzola, blue cheese, sharp cheddar are other excellent pairings. Crumbly blue cheese contrasts well with the smoothness of Barletts, for instance, and you can do no wrong with sharp cheddar with anything as far as I am concerned. Enhance your presentation with a drizzle of dark honey, a handful of fresh pecans and some dried cranberries as garnish.

But pears and cheese need not be relegated to the end of a dinner. An elegant, understated starter at a neighborhood Parisian bistro made an indelible impression on one local Chowhound, who posted these instructions.

Poires au roquefort et la crème fraîche

(one pear per serving)

ingredients:

ripe Bartlett pears

roquefort cheese, softened at room temperature

crème fraiche

minced chives to garnish

Carefully peel the skin off the pears, retaining the stems. Remove the seeds, using a corer and entering the pear from the bottom (blossom) end. Fill each cavity with roquefort cheese. Cover each pear with crème fraiche. Place on individual serving dish, stem side up. Garnish with minced chives. Serve at room temperature. Can be made ahead and refrigerated, but bring up to room temperature before serving.

Katie Malich was happy to learn that pears are less allerginic than most fruit.

The downtown Culver City Farmers Market is held on Tuesdays from 2 to 7 pm on Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds. The Culver South Farmers Market is held from 7:30 a.m to 11:30 a.m. in the northeast corner of the Westfield Culver City Shopping Center, at the intersection of Hannum and Slauson Blvds.

www.culvercitysymphony.org

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