It wasn't so long ago that if you said "fig," it was almost automatically assumed that you were talking about the dried kind. If you wanted fresh, you practically had to have your own tree. Well, having your own tree is still a really good idea, but these days fresh figs are plentiful, at both farmers markets and in fancy supermarkets.
Most of the figs you'll find will be dark-skinned Black Mission or Brown Turkey. They are very good. Green figs are usually Kadota – a variety that is best for drying but is still OK fresh (though the skin is fairly thick). If you can find green Adriatics, they are exquisite. Even better, we're starting to get commercial plantings of the amazing Panachée or Tiger fig.
How to choose: Figs are quite fragile, and because they don't continue ripening after harvest, choosing them is a balancing act. You want them soft and ripe but not smashed. A few tears in the skin will be just fine, though. Real fig lovers say to look for a drip of moisture in the little hole at the bottom of the fruit. Smell is important, too. There shouldn't be any whiff of fermentation.
How to store: Figs are so delicate that they have to be refrigerated; they can start to spoil within a few hours of being harvested.
How to prepare: When you've got good figs, maybe the best way to eat them is the simplest: Quarter them from stem to bottom, and top them with some sweetened mascarpone or whipping cream.