Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chèvre has got my goat

Spring is here! The peach tree in my front yard is blossoming and fiddleheads and nettles are sprouting.

I can't help thinking about the fresh goat's milk cheeses that will soon be ready and I'm obsessed with being out on my deck, sitting in the sunshine and enjoying a nice goat cheese snack.

Cows have been domesticated to the point that they will provide milk all through the year, but small scale goat milk production is still fairly tied to the seasons. 


Most French goat cheese is made in the Loire (Lew wahr) Valley. Goats were introduced there in the late middle ages (1300 – 1500) by people of Arab decent who first settled in Spain before migrating into France.

Why is goat cheese called Chèvre?

Chèvre (SHEV-ruh) is French for “goat”, but the term is used to refer generically to a wide variety of cheeses made with goat milk. Chèvre looks different from other cheeses because it is bright white. Chèvre is bright white because goat's milk lacks betacarotene. 

In addition to just looking bright, goat cheese tastes bright and citric because it’s more acidic than cheeses made from other types of milk. Goat milk is very high in capric acid, which is responsible for goat milk's distinctive taste. Capric acid is also found in capers, among other things, and this may be the basis for satisfying food pairings. 

Unrelated to cheese, goat's eyes have rectangular pupils, which I find a little freaky.

Chèvre comes in a wide variety of forms, and often the name of the cheese refers to it's shape.

Here are some classic French chèvres, each one deserving of a future article of it's own:

  • Selles-sur-cher (SELL sir SHAIR) is a palm-sized hockey puck coated in edible vegetable ash.

  • Valencay (VAL awn SAY) is a truncated pyramid.

  • Sainte-Maure de Touraine (SAINT MORE duh ter RAN) is a  log shape with a piece of straw running through the middle to support the cheese.

  • Crottin de Chavignol (crow TAN duh shah veen YOLE) is a tasty little tiny nugget of cheese. Image a $3 stack of quarters.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous goat cheese in America is the chèvre log.

Despite being mass produced and vaccum sealed in plastic, it's a good introduction to goat cheese, which tastes citrusy, flinty, grassy, and bright. Chèvre has the texture of damp earth or clay.

Laura Chenel pioneered commercial production of goat cheese in America when she began providing chevre for the groundbreaking restaurant Chez Panisse in the late 1970s.

Laura Chenel no longer owns the company, but the chèvre bearing her name is very high quality. 

You can find Laura Chenel's Chèvre at major grocery stores. Laura Chenel's Chèvre is also sold at Trader Joe's under the Trader Joe's label. 

When you open your chèvre log, you could easily attack it with a butter knife or crumble it with your hands, or you could opt for a prettier presentation:

Now you can make cute little rounds of chèvre to go on a salad or a crostini. You could cut the log into 1” to 2” sections and roll the mini-logs in herbs or edible flowers. This works great on a cheese plate.

Rosemary flowers are nice - the leaves are a little too chewy. Dandelions are also flowering now - just make sure that they haven't been sprayed with weed killer or lawn fertilizer.

What could we drink with Chèvre?

Chèvre tastes citrusy, flinty, grassy, and bright.  

Sancerre is a white wine that also has these qualities. It is no coincidence that Sancerre also comes from France's Loire valley. Chèvre and Sancerre is a classic food and wine pairing.

Sancerre is a French wine made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, so you could pair goat cheese with a wine that is labeled “Sauvingnon Blanc” as well. 

Sauvignon Blanc produced in Washington, California, New Zealand, or Chile is fairly easy to find.

In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc is blended with Semillon and Muscadelle to make a White Bordeaux.

Buty Winery makes a good domestic version.

Try pairing chèvre with Vouvray, which is a French white wine made from the Chenin Blanc grape. This wine is made in a variety of styles, from sparkling to dry to sweet, so consult your wine steward.

If you prefer a red wine, Cabernet Franc is a good choice to pair with chèvre. In France, Cabernet Franc is named for the region where the wine is made. Look for Chinon (she nohn) or Bourgueil (bor guhy).  

In the US, Cab Franc is called Cab Franc. Chinook Winery makes a nice one.

Chèvre pairs wonderfully with cider and beer too.

The effervescence of cider works well with chèvre, and a semi-sweet cider adds a nice counterpoint to the tanginess of the cheese.

American hop varieties provide citrus notes that mirror those in the cheese, so look for American style hefeweizens (wheat beers) that should be hitting the shelves in the late spring / early summer.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all the great pairings and the cheese-cutting ideas. This is very useful information! And you're right, the goat-eye thing is a little freaky.