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 CHEVRES FOR GOURMET


COLLECTION: GOAT HANDBOOK
ORIGIN: United States
DATE INCLUDED: June 1992

Extension Goat Handbook

This material was contributed from collections at the National Agricultural Library. However, users should direct all inquires about the contents to authors or originating agencies.

DOCN 000000019
NO B-13
CHEVRES FOR GOURMET
G. F. W. Haenlein; U. of Delaware, Newark
D. L. Ace; Pennsylvania State U., University Park.
Management and Housing

1 Chevre, a name increasingly heard in American cheese stores, is the French word for goat - and by extension, cheese made from goat's milk. Though goat cheeses of one description or another are as old as cheese-making itself, the selection of chevres in most American cheese stores has been comparatively modest until the last few years, when importers and distributors began looking more vigorously for small, out-of-the-way rustic French cheeses formerly thought too difficult to transport. Today, the larger factory-made chevres are a staple in specialty stores and cheese departments across the country, and their farm-produced cousins are snatched up by the knowledgeable within hours of arrival.

2 As a group, French chevres hark back to the simpler era of farm cheesemaking when fresh curds were merely salted, formed into small shapes, and drained for varying amounts of time - days, weeks, or months - during which flavor and consistency gradually changed. They are rarely aged long enough to undergo the changes in curd structure that separate Emmenthaler, Gruyere, cheddar, or most other semihard cow's milk cheeses from fresh cottage or pot cheese. In France, chevres can sometimes be bought at a few days of age, and rarely are they aged more than four to five months. Their youth means that the difference among them does not fit easily into categories. There is much variation - from chevres very mild to rockhard consistency and stunning acidity. Chevres can include white cheeses as soft as butter, wrinkled tan ones with the look of half-cured leather, and objects that appear to have been picked up off the barn floor. All have the unique edge of goat's milk, a complex and faintly biting flavor. Even the young chevres share a hint of the pungent overtones of all goat cheeses.

3 Progress to Maturity It is the young, mild cheeses that are most popular with American chevre-lovers. They are moist, creamy and easily spreadable, the goat taste is an agreeable accent rather than a powerful flavor. As the cheese ages and moisture evaporates, leaving behind the salted curd, the texture becomes firmer, crumbly, compact, and finally hard and dry. With decrease in moisture content, flavors intensify. By the age of several months, most chevre are strong, salty, and pungent. These older cheeses are appreciated by connoisseurs.

4 A different development is followed by those chevres that are not left to age after being shaped but are surface-inoculated with bacteria to form a soft natural rind. Though these too will eventually dry out if left, they go through stages comparable to soft-ripened cow's milk cheeses like Chaource or Camembert. The chevre curd mellows and takes on a buttery smoothness, then will become glistening and semifluid. If left for more than a few days after reaching this stage, soft-ripened chevres usually become rank and ammoniated. It can't always be predicted whether a given cheese will get to the runny stage, but - unlike Bries and Camemberts -soft-ripened chevres are generally acceptable if they remain firm.

5 Appearance Influences Flavor Chevres are made in a variety of shapes and sizes, which influence the ways in which the cheeses develop. Certain shapes are associated with particular kinds of chevre so that knowledgeable shoppers will often buy chevre by shape instead of peering at labels.

6 The importance of shapes and sizes is that they determine the ratio of surface area to internal area, so that a cheese in the shape of a large, thin, flat disc will be more exposed to the air and dry out faster than one formed into a smaller higher cylinder. The way in which flavor develops with aging will also be affected by size, small cheeses will age more uniformly than large ones. Air and dryness discourage the kinds of bacterial action that might take place in the airless, protected interior of a thicker cheese, so that the very smallest, thinner cheeses are unlikely to develop a soft, runny center. Chevre connoisseurs learn to expect certain possibilities of flavor and texture along with the various traditional shapes.

7 Coatings Coatings and coverings of chevres are associated with particular varieties. Leaf coverings were at one time a practical packaging material and came to be traditional for certain chevres. Some factory-made products today bear token chestnut leaves of green paper to link them with rustic originals. If these natural coverings - chestnut leaves, grape leaves, ferns - are in good condition, not moldy or off-smelling leave them on until serving time, since their appearance is part of the cheese's attraction. The black or gray ash coatings are also a traditional appearance of some cheeses. Ash coatings are made of burnt leaves or vine cuttings and are nearly flavorless, though they may have a slightly astringent taste. They slow but do not stop the process of drying out as the cheese ages.

8 Chevres are often rolled in dried or powdered herbs or spices: sarriette (savory), fennel, rosemary, pepper, paprika mixtures. These additions will change the balance of flavors if the cheese is used in cooking.

9 A number of chevres have no coating or are covered by a soft rind. When young, uncoa ++++MISSING DATA++++

10 Chevre Families Sorting of different chevres is confusing to novice shoppers though it shouldn't be because many developed as rustic specialties known by traditional shapes or by names of local landmarks. The different flavors and textures of most chevres reflect not so much difference among basic categories than different degrees of aging. The same cheese can be moist and delicate tasting in the spring, dry and pungent in July. There are some cheeses that are served at a particular stage of development, but uniformity is not the rule with chevres. For this reason, classifications tend to be difficult. Here is a rough grouping of some familiar types and names.

11 Among the young rindless chevres eaten at an early stage, the factory produced MONTRACHET - a snowy white log shaped cheese available with or without coating of black ash is the most widely sold in this country. Mild and creamy, with only a hint of goatiness, it is excellent for introducing friends to the realm of chevres.

12 Of those with a rind that permits them to develop some of the characteristics of a soft ripening cheese, BUCHERON (a factory cheese, produced by the large St. Saviol cooperative) and LEZAY BUCHE (made by the Lezay cooperative) are commonly available. Both of these are log-shaped cheeses (hence the names Buche - log - and Bucheron - log-cutter) that develop a more buttery quality and unctuous texture than Montrachet. DOLMEN, a large truncated cone, the square CARRE D'ALZOU, and the ring shaped CAPRICORNE are bloomy rind cheese, but because of their sizes and shapes they will often develop like Bries, becoming mellifluous and semiliquid on the inside as they age. The Savoy-made TOMME DE CHEVRE, also surface-ripened, is a low cylinder (like a cheesecake) with some of the characteristics of the soft, supple Reblochons of Savoy.

13 The large category of rindless cheeses that can be met at various stages of development includes -to name only a few - the log-shaped ST. CHRISTOPHE and STE. MAURE, the small cylindrical LE CORNILLY, various pyramid-shaped cheeses (VALENCY, POULINGY ST. PIERRE, and a few close siblings), the ball-shaped BOULE DE SOREDA, the heart-shaped cheeses (solid plain - COEUR BLANC - or with a black ash coating - COEUR NOIR), the brick-shaped LINGOT DE POITOU (also sold with or without ash), the small tapered cylinders - all variations on a basic cheese - sold under the general name of CHABI or CHABICHOU, and the flat round SELLES SUR CHER. When very young, these can be as moist and mild-flavored as a Montrachet; but they are usually left to develop and take on character for a few weeks or months, becoming fuller and ''goatier'' while shrinking to size and becoming firm textured. It is a good idea to ask for a sample taste of such cheeses whenever possible before buying, to judge whether the cheese's particular stage of development is to your liking.

14 The group of chevres generally marketed at a fairly advanced age and in a hard, sharp flavored condition is less well known in this country than the young cheeses and the variably aged ones. The most widely available here is CROTTIN DE CHAVINGNOL - though the examples brought into the United States nowadays are often on the young and mild side, enough so that it may be hard to reconcile cheese-lovers' description of the traditional evil looking blackened French crottins (the word literally means dung cakes) with these more innocuous imports.

15 Partial and Sometimes Chevres There is also a group of cheeses that are not pure goat's milk but that for one reason or another are associated with chevre. When goat's milk was in short supply or not available at all, it has always been traditional to make some local cheeses with cow's milk or various mixtures of cow's, sheep's, or goat's milk. In addition, there are some cheeses made of goat's milk enriched with cow's cream - for example, ROYAL PROVENCE, a buttery-textured, golden half-wheel encrusted with a sprinkling of savory. BANON and ST. MARCELLIN are among the either-or cheeses, small fresh discs traditionally wrapped in chestnut leaves, they are generally made of cow's milk (less often a goat-cow mixture) when manufactured on a commercial scale, but a few farms still produce all-goat versions. Unfortunately it is not always possible to tell an all-goat from an all cow or mixed-milk cheese simply by reading a label; though the words ''pur chevre'' on a label indicate 100-percent goat's milk cheese, there are many all-goat cheeses that do not carry this description, and there are mixed milk cheeses whose names or logos might lead one to suppose them pure goat's milk. Dealing with a knowledgeable cheese seller is the best guarantee of knowing what you are buying.

16 Though seasonality is no longer as decisive a factor as it once was in the making of goat cheeses, it is still an important consideration in any serious exploration of top-quality chevres. Today the larger commercial producers freeze goat's milk for consistent year-round supply. Cheeses like Montrachet, Bucheron, and Lezay Buche are available in good condition throughout the year, to the great pleasure of cheese lovers both here and in France. However, the better cheese stores still make a point of searching out farm produced chevres made by traditional methods on individual farms (hence the name that sometimes appears on labels, fermier) rather than mass produced at factories. Farm cheeses are often made from unpasteurized milk and developed fuller, deeper flavor than most commercially produced cheeses. They are still distinctly seasonal, late February to September being the best shopping time. Chevres fermier cheeses are more individually distinctive.

17 Goat Cheeses From Other Countries France is certainly not the only country to make good goat cheeses. A few American produced chevres - for the most part young, delicate cheeses -are starting to be carried by major cheese stores in this country. Soft, young Italian goat cheeses are also increasingly available. But at present nothing matches the rich array of French chevres available in the best American cheese stores.

18 Turi is the generic word for cheese in Greek, and the two most common types - both available in American stores - are Feta and Kasseri. Feta, produced from either goat's or sheep's milk, can be superb. If one is lucky enough to have a cheese store that knows its Mediterranean gastronomy, he'll be offered mature Feta that is rich and creamy, similar to that which is turned out in small measures in the hills close to Delphi and Mount Parnassus.

19 As one of the so-called pickled cheeses, Feta is white, soft, and salty. The best Feta that comes to the United States travels in kegs of milk in which the cheeses slosh to keep them from dehydrating. The worst is dry and acrid and should be avoided, but there are also medium quality Fetas, which, though a little crumbly, have a pleasant tangy flavor. Very good variations are made in the Greek islands, including small rounds from Zante, which are matured in vats of olive oil.

20 Kasseri is the other Greek sheep's milk product of which a good imitation is made nowadays in America. It is interesting to note that some travelers in Greece have found Kasseri to be so soapy as to be almost inedible. Good Kasseri should be as white as Feta but harder, so it slices well, and its salty flavor should be as well tempered as that of fine Roquefort. Kasseri and other firm Balkan cheeses such as Halumi, Hashkaval, and Kefalotyri (the last is also made from goat's milk) are delicious when cut into cubes and grilled over charcoal or under a broiler, or fried in oil or butter, then served extre ++++MISSING DATA++++

21 Queso de Cabrales, a white Spanish goat cheese, becomes a dessert when its faintly salty tang is balanced by thick honey. In the mountainous province of Asturias in the north of Spain, goat's and sheep's milk are combined with cow's milk, pressed into round forms in farm kitchens, salted, and then aged in limestone caves until the cheeses look like the mold-cured Roquefort of France, but, taste like Stilton when eaten with a draft of country cider. Queso de Cabrales is named for a village hidden away among the trout streams of the Cantabrian Mountains called Arenas de Cabrales. Most cabrales end up on local tables, but some goes to distant markets wrapped in leaves.

22 On the Iberian Peninsula, the cheeses are almost exclusively goat or sheep. Many of those from Portuguese mountain villages are generically called queijo de serra, cheese of the mountain. Most of these are made from ewe's milk, but, in areas where goats are common, their milk is also made into Serra cheese; others, which look and taste much the same, are the result of combining both kinds of milk. One of the creamiest and richest is to be found in Azeitao not far from the port of Setubal.

23 A unique goat cheese, called Gjetost is made in Norway and is now often found in US stores. It looks brown and tastes a bit like semi-sweet fudge candy, because it is caramelized. It consists of whey cheese.

24 There are many other countries with interesting goat cheeses, too many to mention, or too little known about them here.

25 Before beginning to cook with chevre, it is necessary to realize that this is not one of those neutral flavors that can be casually added to all kinds of foods. The characteristic bite of chevre magically sets off some foods and sharply contradicts others. Chevres go beautifully with Mediterranean ingredients and seasonings; for example, eggplant and tomato gratin with accents of thyme and olive oil.

26 Though they can be excellent with many other foods from fish to pasta, it is essential to use them in judicious amounts and to remember that the effect of the goat tang in combination with other strong, full flavors can be quite different.

27 Though it is possible to use stronger, older chevres in cooking (for example, grated or crumbed on green salads or composed salads), you will pro bably want to begin with mild young cheeses. In some cases, a Montrachet-like cheese could be substituted for a Bucheron type without ill effect. A rind-aged cheese like Bucheron has slightly better melting qualities. Montrachet is made both with and without black ash coating, the two versions are interchangeable in recipes. The ash coating will not affect flavor, though it may produce a slightly bluish tinge in some dishes.

28 If only a subtle hint of chevre is wanted, decrease the amount of chevre and substitute an equivalent amount of a milder product like cottage or pot cheese, ricotta, or even cream cheese. If you enjoy the pungency of goat cheese, you may wish to increase suggested amounts of chevre and tone down the contribution of other cheeses in recipes where they are used in combination.

29 Based on articles by A. Mendelson in CUISINE, July 1982, and E. Jones in GOURMET, May 1973.

CHEVRES FOR GOURMET
COLLECTION;GOAT HANDBOOK
ORIGIN;United States
DATE_INCLUDED;June 1992


 
 


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