Pickled Cherries and Savory Snacks

There’s nothing better when the warm summer day comes to an end than to sit outside with a cool drink and a little snack.  You can set these nibbles out while you’re waiting for the grill to heat up, or serve them as a starter to a casual dinner.  Pork and fruit are natural partners, so what would be better with spicy, rich salami and ham than pickled cherries?  These are quick and simple to make, and they just get better with age.  I’ve added a little three cheese spread and some baguette slices to go alongside.  It’s a great way to start the weekend.

Quick Pickled Cherries
(makes a pint)
A quantity of ripe cherries, enough to pack into a pint preserving jar, rinsed, stems and pits intact
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
zest of 1/2 medium lemon cut in thin strips
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
a small shard or two of cinnamon stick

Pack the cherries into the clean jar and set aside.  Combine all the remaining ingredients in a small, non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer the mixture until the sugar dissolves, then remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes to cool.  Pour the brine mixture over the cherries, cover tightly, and when cooled, store in the refrigerator.  You can use them within a few hours, but they will become more pungent and pickle-like after a few days.  These would be excellent with pate as well as cured meats.
(slightly adapted from www.brooklynsupper.net)

Three Cheese Spread
(makes a generous cup or about 9 ounces)
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Kirsch or brandy (optional)
1 scallion, white bulb and green top, finely minced
1 heaping teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme leaves
a big pinch cayenne pepper
freshly ground pepper and salt (if necessary) to taste

Using a sturdy spatula or wooden spoon combine the cream cheese and the mayonnaise in a medium bowl until smooth.  Add the grated cheeses, optional Kirsch or brandy, minced scallion and thyme, and cayenne pepper.  Check seasoning and adjust with pepper and salt to your taste.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  You can also spread the cheese mixture on toasted baguette slices and run them briefly under the broiler for a warm, melty treat.

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