The GCF Stands Alone
I have a bad habit of hooking people on chèvre. Almost everyone I have dated lunges at the stuff, and after my food writing students visited the Charlottesville City Market last spring, they took impassioned local goat cheese producer John Coles of Satyrfield Farm (who cannot sell his cheese anymore due to Virginia raw milk regulations and so offers it free and accepts donations) as a class hero.
When you eat as much of the local goat cheese as I do in the late spring and summer, you can taste the differences throughout the milking season as the trip’s diet shifts slightly. The Satyrfield goat cheese is mild and of a spreadable consistency (try the garlic chive flavor with chives from Coles’s garden), perfect for stuffing figs drizzled with honey or smearing onto crisped tortillas filled with sautéed pattypan squashes.
For a sharper flavor, the dolorous months without the market, and to appease the pangs of true addiction, I extended the lessons of the Modernist survey I taught this fall to goat cheese, taking a T.S. Eliot quotation as my guide: “Never commit yourself to a cheese without having first examined it.”
In accordance with Eliot’s charge, I began by thinking about the woman who first produced respectable American chèvre, Laura Chenel, who sold her company to the French cheese conglomerate Rians this fall, but continues to manage her 500 strong Sonoma tribe. Famous for her devotion to the craft and naming her goats, Chenel’s company stabilized in the early 1980s when Alice Waters decided to use Chenel’s rounds for her updated chèvre chaud that accompanied the infamous mesclun salad at Chez Panisse. (Chèvre chaud: French for broiled chèvre on a baguette slice; Waters breadcrumbed and baked the rounds that were served beside the salad; restaurants everywhere copied by slicing chèvre logs, crumbing them, and pan-frying the salad adornments (for ease, use unflavored dental floss to slice the log and try panko instead of white bread crumbs).)
Like the producer, Chenel’s cheese is elegant and mild-mannered—too subtle for my room temperature goat cheese needs. I favored the less expensive and more forward Spanish Capricho de Cabra available at Whole Foods for most of the fall, until early December, (the time when academia battles fatigue and suspends cheering thoughts of upcoming holidays to concentrate on finals and grading) when I overzealously tossed large hunks of Capricho into a salad and realized that, like Pepsi’s successful performance in the Sip Test, Capricho was much better in small quantities.
Exactly a month ago, my friends Walt and Sarah invited Rob (the friend who found that new Frost poem) and me over for dinner, and we had a Four Quartet night, following a pasta with Chenel chèvre (quite good here), pesto, and vegetables with a goat cheese tasting (4 of us, 4 cheeses).
Sarah also made balsamic green beans, which cut the richness of the pasta.
Along with the Capricho, I brought Leonora (Leon, Spain, ash rind), Bocconcino di Pura Capra (Piedmonte, Italy, creamy inside), and Tournevent (Quebec, Canada) from Feast, (416 W. Main Street, 434.244.7800, one of Saveur‘s 2005 Twenty Favorite Cheese Shops) anxious to see how the Capricho would fare.
Walt decided that Capricho was buttery and held up against the others, while Rob and Sarah’s loyalties were divided between the Leonora, Capricho, and the Tournevent. For me, the Capricho mellowed somewhat in the tasting, while I found the Bocconcino’s ooziness off-putting, and the Leonora excellent, but not my ideal.
After the cheese, we ambled outside to watch the Geminids meteor shower; returning to my house later I walked out back, “looking up in perfect silence at the stars,” and feeling a little like Goldilocks on a Goat Cheese Quest.
Continuing my cooking streak of late, I took a goat cheese cake to my friend Steph’s (the woman with the Parisian sophistication in the last post) apartment last week,
she made killer Chambord cocktails,
and we debated whether the recipe should combine or leave separate the cheese and cake in the title, forking the nicely spongy cake from Leonetto Cappiello-printed plates.
For the cake, I used the generic, overpriced Ile de Whatever supermarket brand, which worked swell, just swell; the goat cheese becomes the silent partner that saves this cheese cake (with a space, Steph and I decided) from cloying heaviness. As a cheese, the brand is forgettable, and tasting it before stirring it into the batter reminded me of the subtleties of my new favorite, the Canadian Tournevent, which I restocked in my refrigerator drawer the next day.
Thinking seriously about my goat cheese fiend (GCF) history this afternoon, I suddenly remembered why I have always had an affinity for goats. In kindergarten, I was cast as the middle Billy Goat Gruff, asked to approach a papier-mâché bridge façade, convince a troll to wait for a bigger goat, and trip merrily along to the carpet on the other side by a graduate student intern visiting our class. Four of us performed the simple skit for her smiling psychology class, and she took us to Burger King before we rejoined our classmates, pledged to secrecy about our special field trip. Hiding my folded BK crown in the pocket of my red coat with the striped zipper = my surreptitious unfolding of the parchment paper around the goat cheese I quietly slide out of the drawer late at night, closing the refrigerator door softly.
Since I’m coming clean with this post, however, I think I may even be a teenager about it, and tape up a poster with the object of my desire, since secret posters are all the rage—
see how it just, like, glows? And the goat is, you know, floating? It totally makes my teeth sweat…