Your Spring Goat Cheese Primer

kindvall-goat-wildflowers

Several weeks ago, I collaborated with Johanna Kindvall, a Brooklyn-based blogger and illustrator, on a post about my cheese desk. We enjoyed working together and decided to continue with a series that will highlight seasonal cheeses and pairings. We present to you: Spring!

Along with daffodils and Easter bonnets, spring is the season of great goat cheeses. They appear like ice-white confections at cheese counters across the U.S. and in Europe, where they are often spectacularly cloaked in petals, pink peppercorns, or green herbs.

Some of the most sought-after specimen look like pug puppies, with ashy coloring and heavy wrinkles. Don’t be afraid. Most of these come from the Loire Valley, the seat of sweet, tender goat cheese that the whole world admires. In Paris, pairing one of these gems with a glass of Sancerre or rosé is a rite of passage.

The taste of Paris in spring can be yours, too, if you know how to identify superb fresh goat cheese (it should taste balanced, never sour) and what to serve with it. If you want to be clever, you can tell your friends why fresh goat cheese enjoys it’s fashion season in spring: it has to do with wee shoots and wildflowers.

The first meadow greenery is essentially extra-virgin grass, and when those lady goats enjoy their first romps’n nibbles, they produce milk that is sweetly delicate, even herbaceous. This makes the finest cheese.

Oh, bliss! Here are a few of my spring favorites…

kindvall-all-goatcheeses

 

Five Must-Try Goat Cheeses

 

The best place to shop is a reputable cheese counter. Remember, darlings, buying nice cheese is like buying diamonds — if you go bargain hunting, you won’t get the Tiffany-blue box. Avoid shrink-wrapped logs that are mass-manufactured. They’re fine for crumbling onto salads but, trust me, they will not induce reverie.

 

Selles-sur-Cher

This ash-coated round the size of your palm should resemble a very large Girl Scout Thin Mint. Selles-sur-Cher (pronounced sell-sur-SHARE)  is Loire Valley goat cheese at its best. Mild and very fresh, it has the consistency of damp earth. After several weeks of proper ripening, it becomes oozy around the edges and a little more pungent. Serve with rosé and anything raspberry. I love to eat it for breakfast with raspberry jam.

Caprino Fiorito

If you spy a little muffin topper from Piedmont rolled in petals – often chamomile blossoms – nab it before anyone else does. Great goat cheese starts with great milk, which comes from tender grasses and wildflowers. The pastures of Piedmont produce lovely chèvre. Pour a glass of Prosecco, and enjoy Caprino Fiorito without any trappings, preferably after a long bath.

 

Saint Maure    

You can’t miss this downy log with a shaft of wheat running through its center. It’s really the Prada bag of goat cheeses, gorgeous and functional. The reed stabilizes the cheese and creates a little air tunnel so that the center won’t be mushy. Expect a light, dry texture, and a slightly flinty taste. This is a pretty cheese to drizzle with honey as you sip Sancerre over a plate of sliced Asian pear. Watch a French weepy, and call it your spring cleanse.

 

Clochette

Beautiful Clochette is bell-shaped (no surprise: la clochette means “little bell”), making it a perfect selection for Sunday brunch. Some refer to the rind as “wrinkly,” while those with more decorum would call it “textured.” Either way, don’t be afraid of the fleecy surface. It’s delicate and supple, a lovely contrast to the dense, damp center. Pair this with lemon marmalade and French 75s after a vampish night on the town.

 

Wabash Canonball

This little snowdrop speckled with peppercorns represents one of the best goat cheeses coming out the United States. Any cheese made by Judy Schad of Capriole Farm in Indiana is a must-nibble. It’s so compact and perfect, you should share it with a lover over glasses of sparkling lambic or eat it alone on a park bench without any disruptions, other than butterflies. Wabash C. is hard to find and very spendy, but worth every penny. Psst…don’t try to slather this on a baguette. It should be devoured like the best bon-bon in the world.

 

How To Dress Your Goat Cheese

Great fresh goat cheese needs no accompaniment but if you’re searching for good matches, then reach for other spring fare. Every fresh thing from the farmers’ market pairs well, but especially these things…

kindvall-cracker-honey-fiddleheads-wildstr-rad

 

  • Wild strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Berry jam
  • Lemon marmalade
  • Rhubarb compote
  • Honey
  • Sautéed ramps
  • Sautéed fiddleheads
  • Steamed baby vegetables
  • Baby greens or micro greens
  • Radishes, thinly sliced with salt
  • Rosemary crackers

 

Describing Goat Cheese to Your Lover

Good goat cheese tastes bright. Like sunlight, like citrus. That’s because it’s acidic (think: lemons), more so than cheeses made from other milks. Fatty, it’s not. Goat cheese is very light and easy on the stomach. If you want to eat a cheese in bed, this is the one. If you have eaten goat cheese that tastes sour, tangy, or gamy (called “bucky,” after a male buck), you’ve probably eaten a goat cheese of poor quality.

Here’s what good fresh goat cheese often tastes like (saying these words makes for lovely pillow talk): herbaceous, floral, delicate, grassy, clean, bright, citrusy, mellow, woodsy, flinty.

Here are some common textures:

damp, dense, light, fluffy, smooth, creamy, clay-ey, icy, cool, downy (rind), rumpled (rind)

kindvall-Caprino_Fiorito

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Thank you for reading Part I of our 4-part series. Johanna and I are excited to share these seasonal cheese posts with you and hope that they inspire you to dream, to eat, to explore. In June, look for our post on great summer cheeses. Once we’ve completed all four seasons, we hope to present a calendar! To follow Johanna’s site, Kokblog, click here.

 

 

The Tuscan Table

Trio of Pecorini

Last week, I did a deep dive into Tuscan Pecorino, thanks to a slew of samples from Di Bruno Bros. They asked me to taste a series of new products from a Tuscan producer, Il Fortetto — a cooperative outside Florence. As someone who rarely reaches for Pecorino at the cheese counter, I appreciated tasting through this product line. It convinced me that, yes, Pecorino can be table cheese. Not just a grating cheese. In fact, I’ve been eating young Pecorino for breakfast all week. Pairing it with berries, honey, and black tea — why not?

Pecorino for breakfast

To read my post about Tuscan Pecorino, click here.

And thanks for your patience — within the last week, my blog got hacked, I caught the flu, and I hosted family from Italy.  I’m just now catching my breath. What morsels are you nibbling as you prepare for spring?

 

News and Culture: Nibbles, Nibbles Everywhere

Meadowset Sliders from High Street

Here we go, darlings, swing-a-ling! There are so many interesting cheese samplings, food art shows, and exquisite links I’ve discovered this week that I decided to put them all together. Have a browse, and hopefully I’ll see you at the James Beard House, or Brewer’s Plate, or TEDxPhilly, or Occasionette. Mon dieu, there’s a helluva lot going on!

Mike Geno at the James Beard House Gallery

If you’ve been dying for an excuse to dine at the James Beard House in New York (I know I have!), you may want to book a reservation this month. Mike Geno’s show “Chef Plates: The Philadelphia Collection” is on display in the Beard House gallery for March and April. Mike has become a regular face on Madame Fromage, ever since he started painting cheese portraits — he’s also a neighbor, friend, and accomplice (we like to go on curd crawls across the city). For “Chefs Plates,” Mikes pays homage to select Philadelphia chefs by rendering their main courses into luscious oils. Reservations: 212.627.2308.

New York Magazine List of 50 Cheeses

Stuck at your desk eating Saltines? Click through 50 sensuous, crumbly-wumbly cheeses that New York cheesemongers chose to feature in New York Magazine. I ran through the slide show in bed last night, and there’s not a single pooper on the list. Plus, the photography is stunning. It sent me downstairs to the kitchen for a slice of Pecorino after I’d already brushed teeth.

Cricket Creek Kickstarter Campaign

If you can afford to skip your cheese habit this week, donate your savings to the solar power efforts of a beautiful dairy in Williamstown, MA. I visited Cricket Creek two summers ago when my friend Paul Lawler was apprenticing in the cheese room, and I loved everything I saw and tasted, especially a big stinker of a cheese called Tobasi. Cricket Creek is a stunning family farm that produces award-winning raw milk cheese. Empty your change jar, and give them a boost.

Madame Fromage at Occasionette, March 8

This Saturday, I’ll be serving up cheese and Port from 5-8 p.m. with Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm to celebrate Second Saturday in Philly’s East Passyunk neighborhood. Swing by to try Sue’s Stilton, and check out some of the store’s cheese swag, including cutting boards, cheese knives, and a set of cheese-themed kitchen towels designed by Girls Can Tell. The towels are part of a new collaboration I worked on with Sara Selepouchin Villari, who is famous for printing hand-dawn diagrams on cloth. I expect to use these towels at every tasting event from now on. Can’t wait for you to see them!

Brewer’s Plate, March 9

Sunday’s Brewer’s Plate (6:30 p.m) is Philadelphia’s best nibble fest. I love strolling, sipping, slurping, and seeing what’s new in the Philly food world, from new ice cream companies to distilleries. This year’s BP moves to the Kimmel Center. Shimmer, shimmer. I look forward to stalking cheesemakers in the star-lit atrium. If you want to talk rinds, look for me lurking with a camera.

Cheesemakers at TEDxPhilly, March 29

This year’s TEDx theme, “Philadelphia: The New Workshop of The World,” highlights local makers — and I’m happy to say that local cheesemakers will be part of the Maker’s Fair from 6-8 p.m. Look for Al and Catherine Renzi of Yellow Springs Farm. Their delicate aged goat cheeses are some of the best in the state. If you’re a local cheesemaker interested in participating in the Maker Fair, contact Beth Lesko (bethlesko@hotmail.com) right this second.

Don’t forget that High Street’s Cheese Dinner series continues April 1 and May 6. The photo up top shows off the leberkase sandwich that stole the show at Tuesday’s Meadowset supper. It was glorious. For upcoming reservations, call High Street.

Chechil Beer Cheese Snack

Chechil Packaging

There is something unnerving about a cheese that looks like dried squid. When I received an inquiry about sampling Chechil, I was hesitant when I viewed the pictures – but the email came from a charming man named Sergy, who described how he used Kickstarter to launch production of this Russian snack cheese in the U.S. Sure, Sergy, I wrote back. Send me some samples.

Mostly, I was curious to check out crowd-funded string cheese. To be more precise: this is a crowd-funded, smoked, braided, string-cheese beer snack.

Chechil is one of several Kickstarter campaigns sweeping the cheese world; I watched Caputo Bros. Mozzarella successfully raise funds in November, and this month I’m watching the campaign for Cricket Creek Farm. (My friend Sue Miller, of Birchrun Hills Farm, has planned a campaign in September.)

Before you read my tasting notes on Chechil, you should know that Madame’s gold standard for smoked cheeses from the U.S. is Rogue Smokey Blue. The smoke gilds the complexity of this Oregon blue, without overpowering the taste of good dairy. The flaw in many smoked wedges – like supermarket smoked Gouda – is that they smack of smoke, not of milk.

Like the burnt sugar crust on a creme brûlée, the taste of char should harmonize with the cream.

Checil Sampling

Background

Chechil is a bar snack that is produced at a plant in New York state. It’s sold online at Chechil USA and is available at Netcost Market in Philadelphia. Chechil owner Sergey Yerkin told me that hopes to make Chechil available at Whole Foods and Fairway Market.

Taste

Smoke and salt. If you sampled this cheese with eyes closed, you might think you were eating turkey jerky. The texture makes up for the one-note profile here. It’s definitely a cheese that needs beer to offset the intense flavor.

Texture

Dry and thready, this cheese is fun to unbraid and peel apart. Pictures online show bowls of Chechil separated into strands as thin as dental floss.

Pairing

I ferried Chechil to a food blogger party, along with a six-pack of Eastern European beers. Light and sweetly yeasty, these flavors offset the salty, smoky taste of the cheese. An Armenian expat friend (Karina Ambartsoumian, below-left) who sampled Chechil called it “authentic,” and within a half hour two braids of Chechil were devoured by about a dozen people.

Chechil models of Indy Hall

Chechil models of Indy Hall

Suggestions

At a party, Chechil is edible Jenga. It’s fun to take apart and talk about. To serve it, let it come to room temperature, which makes it more pliable. Pilsners are perfect alongside, but I can also imagine…

  • Stuffing Chechil into martini olives
  • Spooling Chechil around a long skewer for Bloody Marys
  • Serving Chechil at a bbq or a vegetarian event
  • Packing Chechil on hiking or camping trips

To read more about Chechil, visit Chechil USA.

 

Cassoulet Night 2014

Larry's Dog watching the oven

One of my favorite places to eat dinner is at my neighbor Larry’s. He and his family live in a cozy row house with three kids and three whippets. It’s a place of elegant chaos. Someone or something is always clattering up or down the staircase.

Any other family of five would serve a big pot of pasta or soup to 8 guests on a Saturday night. But Larry likes to make epic meals. For his semi-annual cassoulet night, he and his sister, Jean, spent a week cooking.

Larry and Jean in the Kitchen

Cassoulet

When we arrived, Larry had just finished frying latkes and chicken for the kids. “So I thought we’d start with a pizza,” he said, tossing flour on the counter and reaching for a bottle of wine.

I admire hosts who cook in front of their guests. I’m a pre-party prepper who gets every dish ready before anyone knocks. By the time guests arrive, I’m panting and slinging back a gin and tonic. Larry and his wife Susan welcome the hubbub.

Larry and Susan's Living RoomCassoulet wines

Add another stool to the table! Grab another dinner plate from the secret closet in the living room! Who wants an espresso? Who wants to make a s’more on the patio (using Peeps instead of marshmallows)? Would you like another glass of wine? Another slice of pie? Turn the music up! Turn the music down!

The secret to a good dinner party isn’t just about serving great food. It’s about dimming the lights, pouring drinks, and letting the rumpus begin.

Susan with PeepsBonfire

 

Cassoulet Night Menu

Homemade pizza with caramelized onions and crème fraiche

House-cured lox with watercress salad

Cassoulet

Cherry Crostatta

Espresso and s’mores

Wonderful wines (described here by Barolo Dave)

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Was there a cheese board? Don’t be silly!

Cassoulet Cheese board

Coach Farm Aged Heart: A Brie-like gem made of perfectly balanced goat cheese, lovely with a dry lambrusco

Brescianella Aquavite: A pudgy Italian doused in brandy and rolled in dried off wheat germ

Ubriaco Prosecco: A firm cow’s milk hunk marinated in booze

Moliterno al tartufo: Sardinian sheep’s milk with pinstripes of black truffle

Faribault Blues & Brews: A sweet blue cheese from Minnesota, washed in Summit beer

Blues and Brews