I've been off of membrillo and honey for awhile now. They're great for cheese because they're downright tasty, but it's been awhile since I've actually served them. I'm not a big dresser-upper of my cheese anyway, and often think that anything more than an excellent bread is extraneous. But if the condiment is a true cheese enhancer, I can be easily convinced otherwise.
Consider me the ideal candidate to receive a gift of a jam like this. The ultimate in enhancing. Given with a small wedge of cheese, this jam would make any cheese lover swoon. Or forget the gift-giving altogether and make it just for you. (Or me.)
There's something about that amazing collision of sweet and savory that makes sweeter condiments for cheese so amazingly satisfying. This jam is no exception. What's great about this one, though, is its vinegary backbone, which stands up to the sweetness of the raisins and the sugar and cuts through the fatiness of whatever cheese you serve it with.
Because it requires only a handful of ingredients, you can easily become a believer. It takes less than 20 minutes, start to finish, including prep and cleanup, and it's fun to make, too. I used the largest golden raisins I could find (I got the ones in the photo from Kalustyan's), since they're more meaty. They absorb a ton of the vinegary syrup, becoming plump and more complex. If you can, find them in bulk at Middle-Eastern grocery stores and specialty shops.
Cheese that works best with this condiment: cheddars, fresh goats, and stinky cheeses. Blues would be nice, too. I can't think of many cheeses that this jam wouldn't complement. Maybe an aged gouda? Nah, that'd probably taste better with a dollop of it, too.
The trick to the recipe: white balsamic vinegar. It has a really lovely sweetness while still retaining a bracingly acidic backbone. It's dramatically well balanced, resulting in a jam that's delicate yet bold, and able to stand up to the most intense of cheeses without playing second fiddle. Smeared on a piece of baguette or a cracker and topped with some cheese, consider this your newest insta-cheese-enhancer in a jar.
Makes 1 1/2 cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, julienned
2 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
1 cup white balsamic vinegar
¾ cup golden raisins
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add red onion, thyme, sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until onions are very soft and lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Do not brown onions. Add vinegar and golden raisins and increase heat to high. Cook until liquid is syrupy and nearly reduced, about 5 minutes more. Remove thyme sprigs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let cool.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
Related: Recipe: Onion-Thyme Jam
(Images: Nora Singley)