One of my favorite days last summer was the day Goat Cheeses of France asked if I’d be interested in helping educate consumers about French goat cheeses. “It’s one of my favorite topics!” I said. So they sent me a great selection to experiment with in my cooking and at my table.*
Frankly, it took me years to figure out which French goat cheeses were best for which culinary uses, but it was enjoyable “field work”—lots of dining in restaurants, plenty of scouting out cheeses at affineurs (shops that age the cheeses ), farmers markets, and yes, supermarkets—then going home and using them in my cooking.**
Head-spinning fact: There are over 6,000 goat cheese producers in France, but let’s keep it simple, shall we? All you really need to do is learn to recognize the four major styles of goat cheese that make their way into the US, and from there, seize on the best ways to use each. I’ve sorted it all out for you.
Fresh Goat Cheese = Unripened Goat Cheese = Fresh Chèvre
What Is It: Fresh goat cheese is so young that it has not yet developed a rind. It’s often sold in tubes in the supermarket.
Appearance/Flavor: Rindless, chalky-white, and tart in flavor.
My Favorite Uses:
• Salads: It’s especially good for salads that call for “crumbled fresh goat cheese.” However, you can’t really crumble it (like a blue cheese). Instead, use a sharp knife (or your fingers) to break and pull it into pieces that look like crumbles. (BTW: If you’re going to do a warm goat cheese salad—salade au chèvre chaud—I prefer using a semi-ripened choice, below.)
• As a Spread: Whip it with a little cream to make a spread for crackers, then top with fun compliments like tomatoes, fresh herbs, tapenade, sliced balsamic-marinated fruit, etc.
Semi-Ripened Goat Cheese = Soft-Ripened Goat Cheese = Semi-Aged Goat Cheese
What It Is: As goat cheese ages, air naturally dries out the exterior of the cheese, making it form a soft, edible rind.
• These cheeses still have a chalky whiteness inside, but often a soft, oozy layer toward the exterior of the cheese. In the best cases, the flavor features the fresh tartness (of the chalky middle) with the fuller flavor and creamy lusciousness of that outer circle. It’s a great cheese!
• You’ll find them in all kinds of shapes and sizes, such as pyramids, bells, cylinders, wheels, and more.
• Note that while many semi-aged goat cheeses have a white rind (as pictured), some cheeses are coated in an edible gray ash adding a speckled appearance to the rind (this also helps cut down on the tart/acidic flavor of the cheese). The cheese may also be covered with herbs and/or wrapped in leaves.
My Favorite Uses:
• Salads: Just like fresh goat cheese, semi-aged goat cheese works well—cut and/or “crumbled”—in salads. This variety is also my number-one choice when the cheese is going to be warmed, as in Salade au Chèvre Chaud—the classic warmed goat cheese salad.
• Cooking: With great flavor and much better meltability than fresh goat cheese, I often use this in cooking. A few examples:
• Roast Chicken Breasts with Goat Cheese and Trois Oignons (this link takes you to a nice photo by food blogger Tammy Cicero)
• Tartine with Goat Cheese, Onions, Pancetta, and Honey
• Crêpes with Roasted Mushrooms and Goat Cheese (page 320 of The Bonne Femme Cookbook)
• Market-Day Tagliatelle with Goat Cheese
• Goat Cheese, Tomato, and Shallot Tartlets (page 311 of the Bonne Femme Cookbook)
• On a Cheese Tray: Yes, I like putting this on a cheese tray with other cheeses, but I think the next option (bloomy rind goat cheese) is even better for that purpose.
Bloomy-Rind Goat Cheese
(Technically, this is a sub-category of the soft-ripened/semi-ripened goat cheese, above, but it’s such a standout that it deserves its own category).
What It Is: The cheesemaker coats the outside of the cheese with Penicillium candidum, the same mold used to make Brie and Camembert. That makes the rind soft, bloomy, and even a little fuzzy.
My Favorite Uses:
• In General: Like Brie and Camembert, this variety melts quite beautifully—but watch closely, as it can go from oozy to runny in seconds. Use thinly sliced and uncooked on salads and in baguette sandwiches. Also good on tartines—open-face sandwiches that are run under the broiler until oozy.
• On a Cheese Tray: With its wonderfully complex flavor, this is one my favorite goat cheeses to put on a cheese tray.
Tomme de Chèvre
What It Is: Tomme de chèvre are large wheels of aged goat cheese; you don’t see them a lot in the US, but when you do, snag some. They’re among the most flavorful chèvres around!
My Favorite Uses:
• Grating or Shaving: Most goat cheeses don’t grate that well, but the hardest-aged goat cheeses can be grated (especially if you place them in the freezer a little while before grating). Add as a finishing touch to salads, bruschetta, pasta—or any dish that could use some intense flavor and lusciousness.
• Cheese Tray: These bold cheese are highly satisfying on a cheese tray. Be sure to bring them to room temperature before serving to bring out their fullest flavor.
How to Store Leftover Cheese: Waxed paper doesn’t cut it–the cheese can dry out and get hard. Plastic wrap doesn’t let it breathe. The solution? A specially designed cheese wrap. I’ve discovered the solution: Formaticum Cheese Storage Bags.
Made in France (a country that knows a thing or two about cheese), the porous bags allow the cheese to breathe, yet keep it from drying out. They also make post-party cleanup quick: Simply place the leftover cheese in the bag and fold over the top. No time-consuming origami-style re-wrapping needed. (However, if you do like wrapping cheese, you can also buy Formaticum Cheese Paper.)
Other links you might enjoy:
• How to Serve a Cheese Course….The French Way
• Five Favorite French Finds at Trader Joe’s (while you’re picking up some cheese, pick up these great finds, too!)
• Three Good + Inexpensive Sparkling Wines (good choices if you’re serving a crowd–and they go great with cheese)
* Disclosure: Goat Cheeses of France sent me a variety of the cheeses so I could help readers understand the differences. I was not compensated in any other way for this posting.
** The culinary opinions posted here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of Goat Cheese of France—I’m showcasing the way I, personally, have come to enjoy and use goat cheeses over the past 20 years.