Christmas 2013: top picks for cherries

A bowl of cherries on the table is a truly Antipodean Christmas tradition.

Deep ruby in colour, cherries are a fun and festive fruit that balances sweetness and acidity and offers cleansing respite from the heaviness of Christmas fare.

Usually the cherry season starts in late November (Victorians mark the start of the cherry season on Melbourne Cup day) and runs through December, followed by a flush of sour cherries in January. This year has seen a generally dryer spring in the NSW cherry growing areas and a colder season in the Victorian and Tasmanian regions, so cherries have been a little slow to kick off in some areas. Good cherries can attract a premium but are they worth it? Panelists were told to look for good unspoiled skin, heavy plump fruit, intense cherry aroma and sweet/acid balance.

First: Koala Country Farms
$19.99 per kg,

Big, fat, heavy, ruby, juicy fruits with intense cherry flavour and sweet and acid balance, these beautiful cherries met every criteria and exceeded some. They are harvested in Yarck, north-east Victoria, and are available in good green grocers as well as selected supermarkets.

Second: Cherryhill Farms
$80 for 5kg ($16 per kg), delivered Australia wide, contact 1300CHERRY

Over the season there are dozens of cherry varieties that ripen. The growers at Cherryhill claim to have planted the sweetest of these. They specialise in picking, packing and dispatching choicest cherries, including the extra fat 28mm cherries, via Express Post anywhere in Australia. The panelists thought it was worth all the effort, marking them very highly. "A very sweet cherry,"said one, who went on to finish the bowl.

Third: Fairfields Orchard
$40 for 2kg ($20 per kg),

Out near Young in NSW the Eastlake family has been growing cherries since 1862. The panelists liked the intense cherry flavour and juiciness in their cherries in a category where scoring was very close between the top four. The Eastlake family specialise in export and home delivery Australia-wide.

Fourth: Organic Empire
$40 per kg plus delivery,

If you want to avoid fruit treated with chemical sprays, then you can rely on the cherries from Organic Empire. These nice and juicy cherries come from a certified organic farm and although not as sweet as the other cherries, had a really lovely, intense cherry flavour. Picked daily, packed and delivered to your door.

Fifth: Woolworths
$19.99, Woolworths stores

They look good, they feel nice and heavy but were perhaps picked a little too early to be ripe and juicy. One of the panelists described them as being like small plums. The price is high at present but should fall over coming weeks as more cherries become available.