If you know me, you know I like simple-to-prepare, yet impressive food with chef-worthy results. Sometimes I find inspiration when out to dine. My husband and I recently found a restaurant in Seattle---CRUSH---to add to our list of favorites. It is modern and swank; the food was so divine we couldn't help but take long pauses where conversation waited while we focused on a bite or sip. We uncharacteristically started our evening with a cheese plate (off the dessert menu; though I have always loved the attitude of 'life is short, eat dessert first'). With 5-6 different cheeses, akin to the range on a painter's palate, these cheeses offered creamy, pungent, firm and fragrant experiences.... with an intelligently paired condiment alongside each. A grapefruit jelly, a quince or fig paste next to blue cheese and to my delight, I had found my next experiment for my kitchen: reduced balsamic syrup. It was next to either a firm goat cheese or Manchego, I cannot remember. What I DO remember is happily filing away the idea of a reduced balsamic paired with cheese for a simple, yet elegant appetizer (or dessert with a little port, for all of us who enjoy dessert first AND last).
Place 1/2 to 2/3 cups balsamic in small saucepan over medium heat. When it starts to simmer, reduce to low---keep it barely bubbling---and swirl/stir occasionally so it doesn't burn. In about 10 minutes it will reduce and become syrupy. Pour over a wedge of cheese (I used Manchego, a semi-firm sheep cheese); I plated it with some almonds and another cheese pairing. Whether starting a meal or finishing it, this is simple to make and the results far outweigh the efforts.
Other balsamic brilliance: