Pears ~ Tasting and Pairing

November 4, 2005

In 2006, Volunteer Master Gardeners conducted a tasting of new pear varieties being developed by UC Cooperative Extension for cultivation by Lake County growers. The project, initiated by pomologist Rachel Elikins, aims to expand the markets of pear growers by providing them with new varieties, especially those well suited to organic production. California pear prices, driven down by both foreign and domestic competition, led the Lake County Board of Supervisors to allocate money for research and development to improve the growers’ situation. This project is funded by that allocation.

Pears have been grown in California since the 1850s, when they were brought here by pioneers. The fruit originated in Eastern Europe or Asia Minor, and it has been cultivated since prehistoric times. Members of the family Rosaceae, pears have many sweet edible kin, among them apples, loquats, strawberries, almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches and plums. Pyrus communis, the classic European pear, gained popularity in Italy and France during the Middle Ages, and the number of varieties steadily increased. In the 1600s, a Massachusetts company ordered pear seeds from a British seed company, and their cultivation in the US began. Western coastal states now produce most of America’s pears, primarily Bartlett and Bosc varieties.

Many factors must be considered when developing new fruit varieties. Marketabilty depends on consumers’ acceptance of flavor and size, but several other characteristics affect whether a piece of fruit will even make it to the consumer. How fruit fares in the fields and after harvest is critical. If varieties are susceptible to certain pests or diseases they are not viable. Codling moth and fire blight are two serious pear pests that affect productivity and suitability. Especially for organic farmers, it is important that varieties not be too vulnerable to such pests and pathogens. In addition, varieties must have a good yield so that farmers can maximize their production, and must ripen at a time that is ideal for market sale.

Although his farm is not located in Lake County, farmer Al Courchesne of Frog Hollow Farm hopes to grow some of the varieties that the UC Cooperative Extension is developing. While the farm is well known for its stone fruit, pears are the latest passion of farmer Al. Frog Hollow Farm is currently experimenting with several varieties of pear and is one of only two farms in California growing a buttery-textured sweet variety called Warren. Warren pears were discovered by horticulturalist Thomas Oscar Warren, who noticed the pears growing in his neighbor’s yard and began spreading and cultivating them. Come to the North Arcade of the Ferry Building this Saturday, to help UC Cooperative Extension by tasting 5 varieties of pear, and giving feedback. Farmer Al will also be sampling the several varieties of pear that he grows.

Pear Pairings

Pears, wine and cheese are a classic combination. Here are some suggested pairings for pear varieties and cheeses you can find at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Markets, with wines that are produced locally.

Warren pears with
Point Reyes Farmstead Blue Cheese and
A late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc

Bartlett pears with
A triple-cream cheese like Mt. Tam or Red Hawk and
A sweet Muscat wine

Bosc Pears with
Fresh goat cheese
Honey, and
An un-oaked Chardonnay

Asian pears with
Capricious cheese or St George and
Pinot Noir

Thanks to John Bauccio for his help with these pairings!