Pesto Change-O: This summer staple is a chameleon in the kitchen and on cheese plates
Whatever American cooks may lack in old-world tradition they more than make up for with unbridled creativity.
Indeed, some say our chefs and home cooks are innovative precisely because they’ve grown up without generations of food customs to stifle their ideas about cooking. Instead, they excel at reimagining classic dishes from other food cultures as part of the ever-changing fusion that is American food. Take pesto, for instance. A concentrated puree, it is, by Italian norms, mostly made of fresh basil and oil and usually served on pasta. In the States, however, pesto has come to mean a puree that comes in a limitless variety of vegetable and herb flavors and colors. And it’s served with lots more than just pasta.
Pesto turns up as spread in sandwiches, whisked into omelets and soups, and pooled as a dipping sauce, and lately it’s even showing up on cheese plates as a spoonful of savory accompaniment. It works best in this context when the cheese has enough sassy character of its own to stand up to a vibrant pesto. We offer some of our favorite pesto-meets-cheese matches here as proof. Experiment this summer—the season of presto pesto!—to discover your own.
Dilled Carrot Tomato Tapenade + Picolo
It’s not officially a pesto, but feel free to use it as one. In this version, made by Gracious Gourmet, we love the combination of carrots, tomato, and a bit of orange infused with dill’s distinct herbal taste. Try its zingy flavor with rich triple-cream cheeses such as Picolo from
Pepperoni Pesto + Juustoleipa
A meaty-flavored all-natural pesto—made by Bear Pond Farm—this one has the unmistakable taste of pepperoni but nicely balanced by bits of sun-dried tomato, Dijon-style mustard, roasted garlic, and fennel seed. Of course it’s a dream on pizza, but that’s why we love it with a warm slab of pan-seared Juustoleipa, a.k.a “bread cheese,” from Carr Valley.
Cilantro Pesto + Dulcinea
We also like this nut-free version made by Bear Pond Farm, as a base for either Mexican-flavored pesto (add a little lime and cumin) or one with Indian seasonings (stir in a pinch of freshly grated ginger). Both ways it’s great served with a tangy flavorful sheep’s milk cheese, such as Dulcinea from Lark’s Meadow Farms.
Written by Laura Taxel
Photography by Sacco and Watt