For at least the past 9,000 years, the humble goat has been mankind’s companion and provider. As evidenced in their respective mythologies, both Greek and Roman armies utilized this hardy animal as a self-propelled food supply for far-flung borders—regardless of terrain, goats will find their own food and produce milk and fiber while they live, and meat when they are slaughtered. In fact, beginning in the 16th century, sailors stranded goats on remote islands around the world, and would return years later to find the herd fat and fit, and begging to be barbecued.
By nature, the goat is happiest living just outside the boundaries of human control. Their small, cloven hooves and gangly-legged agility combine to make goats very difficult to contain; when coupled with wide-ranging and insatiable appetites and a marked mischievousness, one begins to understand the goat’s longstanding association with the Devil. As twin kids are fairly common, in Moses’ time one goat would be killed as a sacrifice, and the other would become the “scapegoat,” or living sacrifice, destined to find its own way in the world (or become some other tribe’s meal).—Lisa Reeder
Know your chevre
Goats naturally mate in the late summer and fall, and so give birth (“kid”) in the winter and early spring. On dairy goat farms, the daily cheese is fresh, unaged chevre that is smooth and fluffy, bone white, and tangy tasting. It is intended to be eaten within just a few days of being made, and to mirror the changing season and the terroir where the goats live and graze. For instance, a spring chevre might taste of pine bark (or rhubarb, if the goats got out!) while a summertime chevre might lean more to mint and grassy flavors.
While fresh chevre is made daily, other cheeses might be made less frequently, and aged longer to develop a thicker consistency (or paste), a bloomy or nubbly rind, and more concentrated flavors and aromas. As wintertime descends, milk quantities plummet and dry up, so it is the aged cheeses that will last (in the store or in your refrigerator) until spring comes again.
Across the board and year-round, the best accompaniment for goat’s milk cheese is fruit. Goat cheese tends to be tacky (consistency, not style) and tangy, both characteristics that benefit from fruit’s sweet flavor and moisture. In a pinch, dried fruit will work as well, but may need to be cut into small pieces so as not to overwhelm a subtle chevre.
If you find yourself in the fortunate position of having an abundance of fresh chevre, first thank your lucky stars, and second—put it in anything! Stirred into pasta sauce, seasoned with herbs and pepper and thinned with cream or water to make a distinguished dip (so long as you don’t mention it is goat cheese!), or smeared on a hamburger just before capping it with a tomato and a bun…chevre won’t let you down. Lest you run out of ideas, you can always put it on a pizza and watch it disappear.—L.R.
Pairing famous goat cheeses
CaroMont Farmstead Chevre (Albemarle County, Virginia)
Emerging for the spring in late March—fluffy and clean, pairing perfectly with early spring produce like spinach, asparagus, and strawberries. Try this with local wines, especially Viognier—so this is what Central Virginia tastes like!
French and Bloomy (for lovers of Brie)
Feast! has imported a goat’s milk Brie called Florette that is shaped into a hexagonal wheel. Think French on this one —ripe pear, honey.
Garrotxa (Catalunya, Spain)
Can be sliced thin and served with walnut and raisin bread and preserves like apricot, fig, or even triangles of membrillo (Spanish quince jelly, most often served with Manchego).
Humboldt Fog (Arcada, California)
It’s famous for a reason: it gives a dramatic visual (it’s a pyramid split by a layer of vegetable ash). Slightly flaky and packed with flavor, it pairs well with dried cherries, nuts, and a drizzle of honey.
After a spring meal
This might be best served after the main event, when one can appreciate the assertive flavor and the differing ripenesses throughout a cross section. A circle of Bucheron (Loire Valley) served with with olives and a sparkling wine, like Crémant, will leave everyone very satisfied.
And for those who don’t like goat cheese…
Beemster (Netherlands) is a goat Gouda. Unlike most goat cheese, it can be cut or grated, so can be brought into the kitchen for many uses. It pairs well with ham, sweeter white wines and fruitier reds.
Our kitchen columnist, Lisa Reeder, is a chef and local foods advocate and consultant. Read more about her at http://alocalnotion.wordpress.com.