To most fruit shoppers, the familiar green Thompson seedless grape is the very emblem of bland, sweet flavor -- everything that is wrong with fruit today.
In most cases, that is justified: Picked green, a Thompson seedless is about as innocuous as a grape can be. But given a chance to ripen on the vine, a Thompson can become a pretty danged good piece of fruit.
Choose them when they're really ripe and you'll be surprised at how floral and sophisticated their flavor can be. Check out the photo gallery for recipes showcasing how grapes can be used in savory dishes. (Any variety of grapes will do in these recipes.)
The trick is looking for the right color. When Thompsons get good, they're no longer that pale shade of green we all know so well. Instead, the green is darker, with a golden cast. In fact, they're almost amber.
You'll probably have to go to a farmers market to find them like that -- they are too inconvenient for most supermarkets to be bothered with. But when you finally get a taste of them, you'll be amazed.
How to choose: Thompsons don't start to get really delicious until the color turns golden, almost amber, as in the photo above. Don't be discouraged if the grapes shake off their stems -- avoiding this problem (called “shatter” in the business) is part of what prompted early picking in the first place.
How to store: Keep grapes in the coldest part of the refrigerator wrapped in a perforated plastic bag that will allow excess moisture to escape. Unfortunately, grapes won't ripen after they've been picked.
How to prepare: At their best, Thompsons have a flowery quality, almost like Muscats. These are best with creamy soft cheeses such as Taleggio.