ok, so, i know i was recently opining on how figs are just a little bit weird. and they are. but just a little bit. and sometimes a little bit weird is good, right? right.
before i jump into the story of how a 1 centimeter little cube of cheese seduced me into creating an entire salad based around said cheese sample and including ingredients i have previously proclaimed weird, allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite places: russo’s. this will provide some much needed context for all of the recipes already on the site that have esoteric/hard to find/delicious ingredients (um, exhibit a and exhibit b, for example) and all of the recipes yet to come which will require notes to explain what ingredients (that you can actually find) will make for decent substitutions.
i really don’t set out to create recipes that require ordering from gourmet catalogues that ship fresh ingredients on dry ice for a small fee approximately equivalent to a mortgage payment. it just sort of happens. because, russo’s.
right! i was supposed to be telling you about russo’s. so, on their website, russo’s refers to themselves as “the food lover’s food store”. and that’s accurate, but doesn’t begin to describe how they have the most enticing collection of all that is good and edible in this whole wide world, especially the far reaches of it. there are dozens – yes, literally dozens – of vegetables and fruits that i have never heard of before that are all waiting to be snapped up, brought home, and turned into something seriously enticing. there are piles of locally made, small batch goodies, both savory and sweet (pro tip #1: avoid the russo’s-made cookies on the shelves near the deli counter. they’re not nearly as good as you hope they are).
basically, take all of the really good stuff from the perimeter of whole foods, add a bunch more really good stuff that whole foods doesn’t carry, and then charge, oh, about a quarter of what whole foods charges for produce. <3 there’s also classical music, big wooden beams overhead, and nice lighting. ::swoon::
so now that you understand how centimeter-sized cubes of cheese and slightly weird fruit can take on an outsize influence, now i can tell you about this fig and cheese salad. when i walked into russo’s last week, i was greeted with several different varieties of fresh figs. yes, several. fresh. i paused for a moment and considered bringing some home, just because… several varieties and fresh. but then i remember that figs are a little bit weird and i left them sitting on their display.
fast forward a bit to when i arrive in the cheese section. by which i mean, go out of my way to walk through the cheese section to try whatever sample they have out this time. usually i am totally that person who tries the sample then buys exactly what i was already planning to buy. this time though? this time i bit into the little cube and immediately began dreaming up what would go with this delicious little morsel of goodness. and i remembered the figs.
getting back to the figs by the entrance was going to require a little bit of swimming upstream, but i knew it would be worth it. i just had this vision taste of what this fig and cheese salad would be like and i knew i had to weave my way back to the door. (pro tip #2: avoid russo’s on saturdays and sundays in the morning/early afternoon. thank me later.) the cheese has this pleasantly-firm-but-not-too-dry texture and a subtle-but-not-bland sort of nutty/earthy/tasty flavor that i imagined would be amazing with sweet-and-weird figs.
by now i’m guessing you’re wondering what the heck this magical cheese is. well, i wish i could tell you. i mean, i can, i even took a picture of the label, but i suspect it won’t mean much to you unless you’re way fancy (hi husband’s coworker who used to be a cheesemonger!). words on the label included “vieux cru des cremieux”, “from france”, and “raw cow’s milk”. i put all of the words i didn’t understand into google, like you do, and learned that i was enamored with an “alpine cheese” that is more commonly (common being a relative term here) referred to as vieux cru des cremiers. most relevant to you, dear readers, i learned that comte is a reasonable and much more widely available (think trader joe’s, whole foods, costco, etc.) substitution. gruyere is another alpine cheese, but i think it’s a bit stronger in flavor and drier than vcsc (can i do that? can i create an acronym for a french cheese i can’t pronounce?!)
in short (ha!), whether you have comte or vcsc, just add figs and some lightly dressed arugula for a seriously tasty salad.
- 8 fresh figs, washed, dried, stem end trimmed, and cut into quarters
- 1 oz. (28 g. / 1/4 cup) vieux cru des cremieux cheese (can substitute comte cheese), cut into small dice
- 1.25 oz. (35 g. / 4 cups) baby arugula, washed and dried
- juice from half a lemon
- 1 – 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- balsamic reduction, optional
- combine the lemon juice and the extra virgin olive oil (adjust the ratio to taste) in a small jar and shake to mix.
- put the arugula in a medium bowl and toss with the lemon/oil olive dressing.
- divide the arugula among the serving plates. top with figs and cheese. drizzle balsamic reduction over the top, if using.