While it might have been unusual ten years ago, fresh goat cheese, often simply called chevre, is now a ubiquitous feature of American cuisine. I am willing to bet, however, that the huge variety of aged goat cheeses made around the world is still relatively unfamiliar to many people. Goats' milk differs from cows' milk (and sheeps', and buffaloes' and so on) in several ways, but most significantly it is naturally homogenized, meaning it does not readily separate into cream and milk, and it has a number of medium-sized, free fatty-acids, which give it its characteristic lemony, barnyard aroma and tart flavor.
Traditionally, one of the best-known regions for goat cheese production is the Loire Valley, in France. The goat cheeses produced there, like Crottin, are dense, crumbly, tart, and match perfectly with the white wines of the region. That's all well and good, but cheesemakers in the US have taken to goats' milk like it's going out of style, and the variety available from domestic producers is simply staggering. Here are six, from all across the nation, that I'm a big fan of.
Goat-ing for the Gold
- When I worked for Cowgirl Creamery, Midnight Moon, by Cypress Grove, was always our backup cheese. A goats' milk gouda, the Moon is only slightly goaty (if you didn't tell someone, they'd never guess), with a reserved sweetness and nuttiness. I don't exaggerate when I say that I never met someone who disliked it. Put it on your cheeseplate at your next party for that person who "hates" goat cheese
- A quick jump all the way across the country gets us to the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company, producers of Coupole, a French-style, soft-ripened goat cheese that looks, with its round dome and sprinkling of ash, like a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This resemblance goes more than rind-deep, since Coupole is creamy, sweet, and floral, ripening to delicious ooziness and a subtle tang.
- In Greenville, IN, you can find Capriole Dairy, producers of Sofia, one of my favorite ashed-rind goat cheeses. The ash that is often added to goat cheeses helps raise the naturally low pH of the milk, allowing further microbial development and a softening of the often assertive flavor of the milk. Sofia is delicate, with a fudge-like texture and a lemony, floral nose.
- Cabra la Mancha, despite allusions to windmill-charging, is, in my opinion, Maryland-based Firefly Farms' strongest offering. The washed-rind, semi-firm goat cheese is interesting without being overpowering, with musky-animal notes mingling with the fresh goat cheese aroma to produce a cheese worth returning to again and again.
- Many goat cheeses are made in Camembert-style - hand-ladled into small-disc molds, gently drained, and ripened with P. camembertii - but my favorite of this style is Redwood Hill Farm's Camellia. When it's fully ripe (the middle of the cheese feels soft to the touch, and when cut there is no chalky middle), Camellia becomes spreadable, with a mushroomy, buttery flavor that goes well with a piece of membrillo or a smear of fig jam.
- In Champaign, Illinois, Prairie Fruits Farm is quietly producing fantastic goat cheese for the surrounding area, some of which Cowgirl Creamery is lucky enough to snatch up and distribute nationally. Moonglo is their washed-rind tomme, aged 3-4 months. When young, it is funky and salty; as it ages, it becomes mushroomy, nutty, and truffly. I've had it at all points in between, and I'm still going back for more.