Some Jewish holidays lend themselves readily to cheese-centered feasts: Shavuos with its bountiful dairy dishes; Chanukah and the cheese-inspired story of the heroine Judith; and Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees. Read any article on creating a party cheese platter and you will run across myriad fruit pairings, many of which are tree fruits. And let’s not forget olives and nuts, excellent sidekicks which also play into the tree tradition. Also appropriate are any items representing Israel.
The Seven Species (Hebrew: שבעת המינים, Shiv’at HaMinim) are seven agricultural products which are listed in the Hebrew Bible as being special products of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, grape (wine), fig, pomegranates, olive (oil), and date (honey). (Deuteronomy 8:8)
Fruit and Cheese (tree fruits plus “vines” of the Seven Species):
Chèvre/goat cheese: figs, pomegranate, peaches, apricots, mango, plums, pluots (plum and apricot hybrid), cherries, dried cranberries
Feta: watermelon, grapes, olives
Blue/bleu: pears, figs, pecans, walnuts, red grapes
Aged gouda: apricots, apples, pears, pecans
Gouda and Edam: cherries, peaches, apples, pear, apricots, pecans, walnuts, dates
Smoked Cheeses: grapes
Manchego or other firm sheep: quince, quince paste or preserves, cherries, apricots, figs, pomegranate, olives, almonds, dates, Marcona almonds
Cheddar: grapes, apples, varied nuts, avocados
Brie: plums, apples, cherries, pluots (plum and apricot hybrid)
Gruyere: pears, cherries, varied nuts and dried fruits
Fontina: apples, plums, pears, grapes, walnuts, hazelnuts
Asiago: figs, grapes, varied nuts
Parmigiano-Reggiano: pears, nuts, grapes, dates, dried figs
Long story short, a variety of accompaniments work with a variety of cheeses on a cheese platter. Besides offering three to five cheeses, I shoot for colors, fresh and dried fruits, a couple of types of nuts, a spread or honey, and bread or crackers.
The Tu B’Shevat holiday inspires healthy eating that can span the entire “year of the tree” in creative, colorful ways. Start yours today!
Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress