The French pronunciation can be tricky – chèvre - the word can get stuck on the back of the tongue and refuse to fully exit in all its Frankish elegance. Chev, chevrey, and even chef-grugh will pass well enough, however, for those ambitious enough to make the attempt.
The rest of us will just call it goat cheese.
Though the creamy, rich, soft and spreadable chèvre may be the one with which most are familiar, it is in fact only a single style of a myriad of cheeses made from goats’ milk. We spoke with Scardello’s Rich Rogers to get a little insight on what makes a goats’ milk cheese a different experience from sheep and cows, and look into some styles that might shine a light on just how varied goats’ milk cheeses can be.
Rich, we’ve noticed that there are some folks out there who love goat cheese, and then some who can’t stand the sight of it. What is it about goat cheese that makes people form such strong opinions?
Well, goat milk cheese is almost as polarizing as blue cheese – like you said, people generally are not on the fence about it. They either love it or they hate it.
One of the big misconceptions about goat cheese, though, is that it’s limited to fresh chèvre; that’s what people think of when they think of goat cheese. Chèvre is basically the French word for goat cheese. So while most people hear the word chèvre, they think of fresh chèvre, but really France any goat cheese could be a chèvre. That said, what I love about goats milk cheese is that it’s extremely versatile – you can do almost anything with the milk. And I think that one of the good ways to kind of get someone to go from not being so sure about goat cheese to enjoying it is to start with a firmer goat cheese. Firmer goat cheeses are typically nutty and sweet, they lose a lot of the tanginess that you find in softer goat cheeses, which is sometimes what people don’t like about them.
There’s another area that some people are attracted to goat cheese, too: the fact that they’re a little lower in fat content; the milk is less fatty. They also have a lot less lactose to begin with, and they lose a lot of the lactose in the basic cheese-making process. That can be helpful to someone who is lactose intolerant; they can handle goat cheese, especially the firmer ones.
So with the firmer goats’ milk cheeses, what are going to be some of the flavor characteristics that differ from a cow’s milk?
Well, take gouda – if you taste a goat gouda versus a cow gouda, you’re definitely going to get sense of goats milk there, you’re not going to fool anybody who just really either loves or really doesn’t like goats’ milk cheeses. Still, when you age goats’ milk cheeses, you’re going to pick up some of the sweetness from the milk, and often, the longer it’s aged, it’s going to pick up some nutty flavors. Semi-soft goat cheese is really wonderful texturally; it’s pretty smooth on the palate. A lot of it depends on the rind, too. If it’s a wax rind versus a natural rind, you’re definitely going to get a difference in flavor – you’ll get more earthiness with a natural rind.
What are some examples of some firmer goat cheeses?
Well, there is aged goat cheese like Pantalao, which is an Italian cheese that is almost like a pecorino; it’s hard, nutty, and very reminiscent of a sheep-milk cheese. And then there are two other types of cheeses that I think goat cheese can be really successful with. The first is washed-rind cheeses, which are the stinky ones – my favorite. Those can be difficult to make and do well, but we carry some French and some American versions of washed-rind cheeses that are fantastic. A lot of times you’ll get some peanut flavors in the rind with some of those cheeses.
Then, of course, goat blue, which is a little bit harder to come by. There aren’t a lot of people that make goat blues stateside, but there are a couple local Texas producers that do. I just love the combination of goats milk and blue mold. There’s something really nice about that. Some of them can be really mild, like Hopelessly Blue out of Pure Luck in Dripping Springs – it’s kind of a gateway blue; it’s extremely mild and really easygoing. Caprino Royale makes a blue cheese called Blue Roan, which is relatively new and extremely hard to come by right now, but it’s a little bit stronger of a blue, but very well balanced. Then I’ve had some really strong blues, one from the UK that was just as peppery as a really strong valdeon; just these really big flavors. Ultimately, it depends on how the cheese maker makes the cheese, the strain of mold, and how much they pierce it – with Hopelessly Blue, there’s very little piercing so there’s very little blueing going on, whereas with Blue Roan, you have some pretty serious blue development inside.
And, of course, there’s the fresh goat’s milk cheese. How would you describe it?
Fresh chèvre can really be all over the place. It depends a lot on the producer, among so many other factors, in how tangy or goaty or barnyardy it is. One cheese maker told me some of it has to do with keeping the buck separated from the does, because the hormonal exchange can affect the flavor of the cheese.
Then of course, it depends on just how fresh it is. Fresh cheese is just going to taste better fresher. Fresh chèvres should have that sort of tell-tell tanginess that you find in goats milk, it’s just that some of them that flavor is stronger than others. Fresh chèvre is one area where I think it’s best to stick local, just because the fresher it is, typically the better it is. It’s not a very durable cheese, so the less travel weary it is when it ends up on your plate, the better.
It’s also one of the cheeses that I feel like really takes on flavor well. I’m not a huge fan of flavored cheeses, but I do make some exceptions, and fresh chèvre is one of them just because a lot of times you still get the wonderful quality of the goat’s milk flavor there, but it really does add something to it when you add things like basil. I love the versatility of it, too; it’s a great cheese for cooking, it’s a great cheese for you know just putting on a salad. And it’s also a great cheese as an instant appetizer because you can drizzle it with some pesto and you’re set.
Okay, so what’s your favorite type?
One of my favorite styles of goat cheese is probably surface ripened goat cheese. A lot of times they’re covered with the vegetable ash, which protects the cheese so it has kind of the darker exterior. Those for me tend to be more flavorful and really bring out the best that goats milk has to offer. We’ve got one in the case right now from the Loire Valley, and it’s an incredible presentation cheese that also tastes fantastic.
Thanks for the time, Rich – I’d imagine this is a pretty busy season for you.
Oh, yeah – we love the holidays!