Grapes are probably the most common fruit to grace a cheese plate. They fill up space beautifully, they're easy to pluck off and eat, and all of us have probably eaten cheese and grapes together and enjoyed the experience. So why do some cheesemongers and fromagers advise against eating cheese and grapes together?
In a word: Tannins.
Tannins Are the Culprit
Tannins are naturally-occurring, astringent compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems (as well as in tea). Tannins are usually associated with wine and can play a role in whether or not a particular cheese and wine pair well together. Tannins are also in the skins of regular table grapes and can affect the flavor of the cheese you are eating.
Grapes can, in some instances, make a cheese taste bitter. This usually happens when grapes are paired with a washed rind or bloomy rind cheese. It happens less often when grapes are paired with hard cheeses.
It's easy to figure out whether or not grapes are affecting the flavor of the cheese you're eating, for better or for worse. With a fresh palate (have a drink of water first, or eat a neutral-flavored cracker) taste the cheese. After you taste the cheese alone, then start eating the grapes and cheese together. What do you think? Does the cheese taste the same, better or worse?
In some cases, grapes might not make the cheese taste bad, but they might not enhance the flavor of the cheese, either. In these cases grapes are fine, but not magical or memorable, pairing with cheese.
Fruit and Cheese
You don't have to banish grapes, but next time you're serving cheese consider reaching for other fruits first. Figs, dates, apples, melons, and pears are usually always good choices when pairing fruit and cheese.
The safest bet is to pair cheese with dried fruit. Dried fruit is often sweeter than fresh fruit, and you don't have to worry about dried fruit ripeness or whether it is in season. Dried figs, dates, cherries and apricots pair really well with cheese.
Fruit spreads also pair really well with cheese. Many cheese shops sell quince paste, fig jam, and peach or apricot preserves to pair with cheese.
Why Do Fruit and Cheese Pair Well Together?
The sweetness of fruit and saltiness of cheese are the main reason they pair well together. This sweet/salty contrast is also why cheese pairs well with dessert wines, honey and fruit spreads.
6 Cheeses that Pair Well With Fruit
Try any one of these cheese with fruit and be pleasantly surprised:
- Havarti is a smooth and buttery, near-white cheese with a soft texture. It pairs best with sweeter fruits, like pears or honey crisp apples.
- Edam is a close cousin to Gouda and shares its mild, buttery flavor but is slightly nuttier and has a slightly firmer texture. It balances well with sweet or tart fruit, and especially well with red grapes.
- Jarlsberg resembles Swiss but is nuttier and harder. It pairs best with tart apples and plums.
- Munster is a mild cheese that mellows with age. The orange rind is edible and the cheese itself is near-white. Grapes and sweet apples go best with Munster.
- Gruyere has a medium firm texture, is creamy colored with a nutty, rich flavor. It pairs best with apples.
- Asiago is hard, pungent and strong-flavored - a cross between sharp cheddar and parmesan. Pair this cheese with tart, hard apples like Granny Smiths, as well as plums and tart grapes.