Bonne Bouche Goat Cheese from Vermont Creamery


[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

When I was a kid, a lot of cheese was identified along country-of-origin lines. Swiss cheese. American cheese. Greek cheese. Mexican cheese blend (according to Kraft, the Mexicans were the only ones into blending—that is until the Italian cheez blenders jumped into the fray). Fancy-pants French cheese (which was probably made in Wisconsin).

Yeah, we had our mozzarella sticks and green can parm, but as far as differentiating between regional choices, styles, or even types of milk? Well, that was strictly confined to fancy restaurant territory. America had a lot going for it, but terroir was not one of those things.

All that has changed over the last few decades. There are now entire cheese menus in high-end New York restaurants serving exclusively American cheeses that show an astonishing level of variation, subtlety, flavor, nuance, and skilled craft, and the dairy farms of the Green Mountain state of Vermont have played no small role in this shift.

I've been a fan of Vermont Creamery's dairy products ever since the first time I tried their awesome crème fraîche a good decade ago at my first restaurant job in Boston and have since come to particularly love their cultured butter (I've always got a log in my fridge) and fromage blanc, amongst their other products.

My new favorite? Bonne Bouche, an aged goat's milk cheese made in the ash-ripened French style. Straight off the shelf, it's got the characteristic lemony tang of a fresh chèvre with a fluffy, lightly chalky texture and a distinct nutty aroma from the poplar ash that coats its exterior. As good as it is then, it's even better when aged in the fridge for a few weeks. As the cheese continues to ripen, it transforms as the chalky paste slowly becomes rich and creamy from the outside-in.

At its best, it's creamy enough that it droops and runs when served properly at room temperature, the faintest chalky lemony core surrounded by rich, gooey layers of creaminess with a robust, nutty funk permeating it from the rind. It's one of those cheeses that just begs for a sweet pairing. Honey is my cheese-plate partner of choice, but I could see any number of jams or preserves working in its place. Prunes soaked in cognac and simple syrup, sticky dates, anything with a syrupy sweetness to counteract the sharp tang of the cheese.

The most difficult part? Seeing that cute little disk sitting in your fridge every day and waiting until just the right moment to cut into it. Here's a suggestion: get a few of them. That way when you inevitably succumb to temptation, you'll at least have a backup plan.