Q: How do meats, fruit and other produce enhance a cheese course? 

After a month of refining our taste buds at the NSW Wine Festival (winding up this weekend), we couldn’t help but be inspired by the ability of the gourmet cheese platter to cater to even the most discerning palate. While purists like their cheese with little distraction, most cheese courses use a carefully crafted selection of cheeses, cured meats and fresh produce to achieve a complex balance of flavours and textures. With this in mind, our bulletin this week profiles seasonal produce that will bring out the best in your Autumn cheese platter.


COOKED FRUIT: Slow-baked quinces are delicious, however jam and pastes with a tart or sweet flavour are also suitable



Available: Mar - Aug

Growing Areas: Goulburn Valley, Granite Belt, Bathurst, Adelaide Hill

Appearance: round - pear shaped with hard, yellow skin

Flesh: hard, golden flesh which turns pale-dark pink when cooked

Flavour: highly fragrant. Very bitter making them unpleasant raw, however this deepens to a sweet, musky flavour when cooked

Selection: pick firm, yellow fruit with only a touch of green. Avoid fuzzy fruit as this indicates immaturity

Preparation: high pectin levels make quince perfect for making jams, jellies & preserves. The slower and longer a quince is cooked, the darker the end colour


FRESH FRUIT: APPLES, pears and GRAPES are platter favourites, however FIGS and FUJU PERSIMMON are also in season and are a colourful, delicious alternative

NASHI: aka Asian Pear, Oriental Pear, Apple-Pear, salad pear

Available: Mar - Nov (best May - Aug)

Growing Areas: Goulburn Valley (90%)

Appearance: medium, round fruit with yellow-green slightly rough skin (can be flecked with white or brown depending on variety)

Flesh: creamy white, crisp and juicy flesh (like an apple)

Flavour: subtly sweet with medium sugar and high acid

Selection: choose light yellow-green fruit that are firm

Preparation: fresh and juicy- or cook similarly to apple or pear



Available: Feb – Oct, best Apr - May

Growing Areas: predominantly Victoria however grown across Australia (ex. NT)

Appearance: med to large pear with an elongated neck, green-brown skin and a golden-brown russet that darkens as it ripens

Flesh: juicy, white flesh

Flavour: aromatic, sweet, buttery and juicy

Selection: fragrant and firm, ripe pears give a little when pressed at the stem

Preparation: fresh and juicy, poach in wine and spices


SWEET PERSIMMON: aka Fuji Fruit, Fuju Persimmon or Fuyu Fruit


Available: late Feb - June

Appearance:  round fruit with a somewhat flat top and orange skin

Flesh: orange

Flavour: mild, sweet flavour

Selection: Should be bought when crisp and crunchy. 

Preparation: When fresh, best enjoyed like an apple, otherwise can be used when soft/mature in cooking


SEMI-DRIED FRUIT: California dates are superb at the moment. Dried muscatel are also a good addition, however these will not be available for some time yet



Available: all year

Appearance: rich gold to dark brown, slightly wrinkled skin

Flesh: soft, slightly chewy

Flavour: rich and sweet- caramel tones

Selection: look for plump dates which are slightly glossy and gold-brown in colour. Avoid any with crystals on the skin

Preparation: slice and remove stone, fantastic fresh but can be also be used in cooking, baking, dipped in chocolate or stuffed


ROASTED NUTS: chestnuts are great eating at the moment, however  almonds, pistachios, walnuts and hazelnuts are also suitable



Available: Apr - Jul

Growing Areas: North East VIC (70-80%), growers in all states

Appearance: heart shaped tree nut that has a tough, shiny dark brown shell

Flesh: creamy white nut - when cooked is similar to a roast potato in texture

Flavour: sweet and nutty - not suitable raw

Selection: buy heavy for size and firm as this indicates freshness

Preparation: short shelf life (1-2wks in fridge) though frozen nuts can be used for soups/purees. Lie chestnut on flat side and score the outer skin vertically, this stops them bursting when roasting (for your platter) or cooking them remove tough outer shell and thin inner skin (pellicle) prior to eating

A: A cheese course usually consists of 3-5 cheeses with different milk types (i.e. sheep milk, cows milk or goat milk) and textures (i.e. firm, washed-rind or blue) represented. The fruits, nuts and other accoutrement are used to enhance the unique character of these cheeses in different ways. For example, the sweet tones of fruit pastes/jams complement the rich taste of blue or French Brie, while fresh fruit provides a crisp, sweet contrast to salty cheeses and refreshes the palate. Warm, crunchy nuts are also popular (especially in the cooler months) as they provide a crunchy texture and enhance the nutty flavours in some cheeses. Other favourite additions to a cheese course include chewy fruits which complement firm cheeses, salty olives and crostini, crackers or specialty breads which help to cleanse the palate.  


Q: Why do people call figs a ‘false fruit’?

With all this unseasonal rain, top quality strawberries are going to be thin on the ground for Valentine’s Day. So why not replace them with some fresh NSW figs! Local figs are fantastic quality at the moment, and with a long held reputation as both an aphrodisiac and symbol of romance, they will satisfy foodies and romantics alike.

As fresh figs do not ripen after harvest, pick figs that are heavy and plump with no blemishes and good colour for their variety (see below). Avoid any with a sour smell as they will be over ripe.  When they split at the base, they’re ready to serve.


BLACK GENOA: Most common commercial variety in NSW


SHAPE: Med to large , squat and conical

COLOUR: Dark purple skin at maturity, dark red seeds and white flesh

AVAILABILITY : late December to May

PEFORMANCE: Distinctive rich, sweet flavour, stores well. Best for eating fresh or jams




SHAPE:  Med to large, sphere.

COLOUR: The skin is green tinged with amber when ripe. Flesh is a rich , strawberry colour


PEFORMANCE: All purpose fig with excellent flavour. Peels easily when ripe




SHAPE:  Med to large, pear shape with prominent ribs and large eye

COLOUR: Thin, brown skin which is a lighter copper colour near the stem, flesh is pink-brown

AVAILABILITY : February to May

PEFORMANCE: Excellent flavour with few seeds- suited to eating fresh



PRESTON PROLIFIC: Originated in VIC, thought to be a Black Genoa seedling

SHAPE: Med to large, sphere

COLOUR: Skin changes from green to a purple brown when ripe. Pulp is amber with a tint of red and the flesh is very thick, creamy white and juicy

AVAILABILITY : February to May

PEFORMANCE: Distinctively sweet


Still not convinced? Here are some Valentine's Day inspirations with fig at their heart:

Arugula with Brûléed Figs, Ricotta, Prosciutto & Smoked Marzipan – Graham Elliot

Duck Breast with figs, burnt honey and lavender sauce – Gourmet Traveller

Figs for a Thousand and One Nights- Nigella Lawson

Fig leaf ice-cream with crushed berries and meringue- Gourmet Traveller

Baci Di Fichi - delicious magazine


A: Figs are all about hidden treasures. What we often refer to as the fruit is actually a synconium (hollow vessel) which holds the delicate flowers and seeds of the plant.  In ‘persistent’ figs varieties (i.e. the ones we eat fresh) the flowers are all female and the seeds empty. Whereas dried figs are produced from varieties where the seeds are pollinated, which is how they achieve their nutty flavour.