Generally pungent and eaten when matured, but also fresh, creamy and spreadable, these are the most typical and versatile cheeses of the 300 or so types made in France. They can be used in cooking for easy gourmet dishes. Most come from the Massif Central, a hilly and formerly vulcanic region in the middle of France, but many other areas like the Châteaux de la Loire region also make goat’s cheese. The most prized ones are labeled A.O.P. for “Appellation d’Origine Protégée”, but it’s hard to find a mediocre goat’s cheese, even without the label. Goats are generally farm-raised, which makes all the difference.
Goat’s cheese come in many sizes and shapes. Some are round, tiny and called “bouchon”, as in the cork of a wine bottle. Among these are the Chevretin and Picodon (when mature, the latter can be as tiny as a 2-euro coin). Some of the tastiest goat’s cheeses come in long cylinders, either white on the outside, or like many other forms of goat’s cheeses, rolled in oak ashes or presernved in oak leaves (in which they are sold) for a more rustic flavour and texture. May seem strange to non-French tastebuds, but they’re truly excellent since the ashes serve to preserve the sharp and rather particular taste underneath. Among the log-shaped goat’s cheeses, one of the best is the Sainte-Maur-de-Touraine. The best-known and appreciated pyramid-shaped ones are the white Pouligny Saint Pierre and the ash-coated Valençay. Some of the other goat’s cheeses are covered with blue cheese-like mold.
In cooking, the most versatile and best is the Crottin de Chavignol. It’s bigger than a “bouchon” and is called “crottin” for, well, the ball-sized excrements that goats produce (“crottes”, in French – the Frenchare rather uninhibited about things like that). It’s just a name.
Here are two recipes for which any white goat’s cheese or a mixture of them will do:
Tourte Chavignol, or Chavignol pie: as the name implies, it contains Crottin de Chavignol, but also some fresh goat’s cheese for balance. Make a generous pie crust using olive oil and milk (forget the butter here). The filling starts with a nice layer of prosciutto ham (“jambon cru” in French), to which you add a spinach mousse (frozen spinach works well here, with a dusting of flour to absorb the vegetation water, mixed with some fresh goat’s cheese and, if you wish, some grated swiss for texture) On top, the third layer, you put thick rounds of Crottin de Chavignol – at least 2 crottins are needed – then lightly pour some olive oil on them, and add pepper and basil. Put on the top crust taking care to make slits so that the cheese doesn’t flow out too much and bake in a medium oven for about an hour.
Cake aux frômage de chèvre, or goat’s milk “cake”: Take any usual salty loaf recipe but use olive oil in it. Add crumbled goat’s cheese, either mature, fresh, medium-ripe or a mixture of them, plus sliced black olives, basil and dried tomatoes cut small. Bake as you would any cake mixture.