Recently I took on the challenge to create a “hometown burger” for Labor Weekend, a request from Wisconsin Cheese Talk. Since I still think of Wisconsin as home – Madison, specifically – I thought back on two of my favorite summer flavors from that state: Door County Cherries and Black River Blue from North Hendron Dairy Co-op. If you’ve ever paired Stilton with port, you know that these two flavors make beautiful music in the key of sweet-salty.
Black River Blue is a great burger topper – it melts well, and the flavor is sharp without being too aggressive. If you have any left over, sprinkle it in a spinach salad or tuck it into a BLT. The cherry-onion relish can be made in advance, and it keeps well. The tartness of the cherries alongside the caramelized onions balance out the saltiness of the blue, making for a truly stunning burger.
Back when I lived in Wisconsin, I used to bike down to North Hendron Dairy from my favorite little writing cabin at a place called The Christine Center, which was run by nuns. Props to Sister Margaret and Sister Johanna who turned me onto this cheese. When I see it on the East Coast, it makes me think of rural Wisconsin and kind Franciscans.
Blue Cheese Cherry Burgers
For the cherry-onion relish
¼ cup dried cherries
½ cup warm water or dark beer
1 medium-sized white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
Ground black pepper
For the burgers
4 ground beef patties
4 whole wheat hamburger buns
Black River Blue Cheese (or Gorgonzola)
1. Soak cherries in warm water or beer and set aside to soak for half an hour or more.
2. Melt butter in skillet and add thinly sliced onions. Cook on low to medium heat, about 20 minutes. If they brown, they’ll get tough, so be sure to let them cook down slowly. Once onions are transluscent, add balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and turn off heat. Add a pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Drain cherries, and add to onion mixture.
3. Salt and pepper ground beef patties, and grill. If you cook them on a stove, get the pan hot and cook them in a little butter, 5-7 minutes per side if you want them to be rare – closer to 9 or 12 minutes per side for well-done.
4. Top burgers with cherry-onion relish and a hunk of blue. For additional condiments, try some baby spinach, a shmear of mayo, and a little whole-grain mustard. Serve with a dark, smoky beer and sweet-potato chips.
Note: You can use dried cranberries in place of cherries in this recipe. If you like a smoother relish, put it in a food processor.