Until I made this tasty little appi, I’m not at all confident that I could say that I have actually ever eaten a fig. And, that is kind of embarrassing. It is a childhood holdover prejudice. There is something about the texture of a fig that made it, um…what’s the right term…repellant to me. As far as I was concerned up until last week, figs were small, firm projectiles to throw at siblings and friends in the backyard OR cookie filling OR an attractor of annoying birds.
I have turned a corner at the ripe young age of 39. I have now eaten a fig. And what’s more, it was pretty swell. If you are bored of my ramblings, this post is essentially about salami with a slice of roasted fig and a little taste of Stilton cheese. Read on for the particulars, including a girl in a Budweiser gimme cap.
I decided to tackle my fig issue for no reason in particular. They are actually lovely little fruits. They looked juicy and a little decadent. I wanted to photograph them, too. I was shocked when I purchased them at how velvety and fragile they really are. I looked at a few recipes and saw some ideas for pairing them with meats, but prosciutto seemed to be the automatic choice in everything I looked at and I’m just not crazy about prosciutto. I don’t get the appeal. And I knew I wanted to try it with a cheese but nothing was coming to mind. Enter Amy.
I was wandering around Whole Foods (Park/Central) thinking and imagining about foods and combinations. I found a nice little container of figs and I was willing them to speak to me. Nothing. But when I made it to the cheese section and was standing in a state of puzzlement looking at so many Feta choices, a sweet voice woke me from my confusion. It was Amy, a Whole Foods employee. So I laid my problem at her feet and within about 45 seconds she had shown me lots of wonderful alternatives that she thought would be amazing with figs. I was pumped. Amy is a kind, friendly, ink-covered, raven-haired chick in a Budweiser gimme cap and she flat out schooled me on cheeses and pairings for a totally random fruit of my choosing. So if you live in Dallas, and if you are experiencing a period of confusion in Whole Foods, I hope you too are playing during Amy’s shift. Although, the same thing happened in the same spot with a different employee only a few days ago so I think there is just a pretty good chance that they only hire people in the cheese area that have a thing for great cheese. So, here is what we came up with.
I bought a variety called Black Mission Figs. Had I known how incredibly interesting figs really are I would have taken a liking to them much sooner just so I could talk about them. They truly are an historical character, appearing in the Bible more than any other fruit and possibly being the earliest cultivated crop beating out wheat by over 1000 years. I believe that it is possible that this is the case because they grow like weeds in a suitable climate. But suffice it to say that the humble fig has fed the earliest Olympians and is spoken of by the likes of Pliny. It traveled to the New World and became a popular crop in California as early as the gold rush. They are packed with nutrients like Potassium and Calcium and I believe they have more fiber than any other fruit. To learn more about figs you can read the website of the California Fig Advisory Board. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure.
Stilton is kind of like champagne. That is, Champagne is not Champagne unless it is made by the Champagne method in a particular region of France. If it is made in California, it is sparkling wine, no matter how uppity it wants to try to be. There is nothing in the world wrong with sparkling wine…it is the exact same thing…except it is not.
Stilton is a quintessential English product. It is made in, and only allowed to be called Stilton if it is made in, one of three counties in England: Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Leicestershire. Along with the geographical limitations there are several other requirements that a producer must meet to call a cheese Stilton.
But the important thing to know is that this blue cheese is exceptionally creamy, and a little salty and oh so delicious. I like blue cheese, generally, but Stilton is really in a class by itself and if you like blue cheese you should really do yourself the favor of sourcing a fine Stilton and trying it. The one I used is the one that Amy recommended, called Borough Market Stilton and it is really delicious. I learned a lot about Stilton by reading the website of the Stilton Cheesemakers’ Association. My mom also orders a wonderful Stilton through Williams Sonoma. Did you know Stilton is one of the only cheeses that you can freeze?
This specific salami was also recommended by Amy. It is called Fra’Mani. Fra’Mani is an Italian abbreviation for “brother’s hands” according to the company. Here is a fun and confusing thing to learn. Salami or salame is salumi but not all salumi is salami. So if you go to the Fra’Mani website you will find that salumi is a parent term for salted, cured cuts of meat which include other types such as mortadella and prosciutto, as well as salami. There is a fun article in SF Gate about the salume confusion and how being right cost many restaurants because most customers thought they just didn’t know how to spell salami. And this article in Diablo Magazine is also a great primer on the art of salumi.
When you unwrap the salami you may find that it has a whitish rind, which is the casing covered in a beneficial mold (like blue cheese actually). This is normal and you just peel away the casing and slice the salami as thinly or as thickly as you please. Fra’Mani has a different texture than your average deli salami which can be sort of waxy and greasy. This salami has larger chunks of fat in the meat, but it somehow tastes less fatty. It has a distinctive texture and flavor. The stick that I purchased cost about $14. It was worth it.
There. Now you know the players. Here’s the play. Slice the figs horizontally. Now you must choose a path. Be like my husband and use them as they are, fresh and raw. Or, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, sprinkle them with brown sugar and roast them for 20 minutes, as I did. I liked them cooked– perhaps I am still running away from my childhood aversion– but I thought the flavor was wonderful. However, both are lovely, and one is easier, for sure. If you roast them, allow them to come to room temperature before proceeding.
Slice the salami, place a slice of fig on it, and place a little bit of Stilton on each of the figs. That is it. It is that simple. We ate them at room temperature. The cheese is better that way and you don’t need a hot fig melting your cheese. It is a little sweet and a little savory with a creamy bit of excellent cheese on top.
The components of this could be a bit costly if you chose really fine ingredients, but considering how many servings of this appetizer you can make with a handful of figs and one stick of salami, I think it is a bargain. I hope you try it. Let me know if you do and whether you cook your figs or eat them as they are. I’m curious.