by Domenica Marchetti, author of Big Night In (Chronicle Books, 2008)
Apples effortlessly fit into any type of menu or gathering, from casual get‐togethers to elegant soirees. And while apples are so abundant, many varieties remain largely undiscovered. Try hosting an apple pairing party – it can be a fun and rewarding experience for your guests as they sample the range of flavors, textures and colors along the apple spectrum and compare notes.
- Download the “Host an Apple Pairing Party” tasting menu for simple beverage, apple pairing and dessert inspiration.
- Use the “Host an Apple Pairing Party” reference guide for tips and tricks on planning your apple pairing party (including selection, storage and handling tips and pairing suggestions).
- Curious about varieties? Check out the online variety guide – a list of the top 15 apples in the U.S., plus flavor, color, availability and best-use information.
- Help your guests determine (and later recall) their favorite apples by printing apple tasting note cards. Give each guest one note card per apple sampled to fill out and take with them.
Apple and cheese pairing. Display cheeses on a large slab or cheese board, and fan apple slices around them. Select three cheese varieties, and provide a separate cutting or spreading knife for each. The pairing possibilities are infinite but here are some of my favorites:
1. A robust, creamy-crumbly aged cheddar such as Fiscalini bandaged cheddar paired with a crisp, sweet-tart apple, such as Honeycrisp.
2. A gorgeous blue cheese, such as Achelse Blauwe, from Belgium, (or spicy Mountain Gorgonzola from Italy) with a tart apple, such as Granny Smith or Newtown Pippin (one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apples), or perhaps the sweet-tart Pink Lady.
3. Chaource or another rich triple-crème cheese with a lightly flavored sweet apple, such as Golden Delicious or Gala.
Bread and Apple Butter. Experiment with spiced apple butter and thin slices of fresh bread – baguette, whole grain, walnut-raisin and cornbread are great options.
Spinach Salad with Fresh and Dried Apples, White Cheddar, and Bacon. Toss together fresh baby spinach leaves with chopped dried apple pieces and thin slices of apples, such as Ginger Gold, Honeycrisp or McIntosh. Sprinkle with bits of crispy bacon and toss with a vinaigrette made from bacon drippings and red or white wine vinegar. Crumble aged white cheddar on top. Serve in a large decorative bowl with small plates stacked nearby.
Apple and Prosciutto Carpaccio. Arrange very thin slices of imported Prosciutto di Parma on a ceramic serving platter. Top with paper-thin slices of unpeeled apple. Choose a sweet, crisp variety such as Fuji or a crisp, sweet-tart variety such as Cameo, which resists browning, or Pink Lady. Scatter a few shavings of imported Parmigiano-Reggiano over the apple slices and finish with a few drops of walnut oil and fresh ground black pepper. Have tongs on hand.
Smokey Apple & Butternut Squash Soup. Visit usapple.org for a great apple and butternut squash recipe. When you’re finished cooking, keep the soup hot on a buffet table by setting it out in a slow cooker set to ‘warm.’ Serve the soup in demitasse cups with small spoons. Garnish with a dollop of crème fraiche and a scattering of chopped dried apple, if you like.
Apple Sorbet. This is a fresh alternative to apple pie, and an elegant addition to an apple tasting party. You can make the sorbet using several varieties of apples, or—if you are feeling particularly ambitious—make a trio of sorbets, each spotlighting a single variety. Choose highly flavored apples, such as Honeycrisp, Newtown Pippin and Ginger Gold. Combine chopped apples with cider or apple juice, sugar, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Cook until the apples are tender. Puree in a blender and chill; then freeze in an ice cream maker.
Apple Beverages. For drinks, serve both cold hard cider, and hot mulled cider spiced with cinnamon. Keeping the mulled cider on the stovetop will perfume the entire house and add to the inviting atmosphere of your apple tasting party.
BONUS IDEA: No apple tasting party is complete without apple décor! Greet guests with a large decorative basket of apples on a front table, or on the front porch. Fill a pretty bowl with an assortment of fresh apples for a colorful centerpiece. Arrange with votive candles for added impact!