Even though it’s in the 80s here in Napa—and they’re dealing with snow in the Midwest!—it’s still technically spring. So I’m inspired to revisit a newspaper column I wrote, about a million years ago, about the springiest of cheeses, goat cheese. (The column’s been updated slightly.)
Let’s hear it for Laura Chenel, the doyenne of American goat cheese!
Because without Laura, we might never have enjoyed goat cheese crumbled on a salad or spread on a sandwich. Never have had a goat cheese pizza, goat cheese-stuffed chicken breasts, or a goat cheese omelet. Goat cheese might never have been there to so quickly and easily dress up a dip, sauce, or soufflé.
Or as the bright, springy starter pictured here, Baked Chèvre with Herbes de Provence Breadcrumbs.
It’s hard to imagine, considering how ubiquitous goat cheese is today. But a mere thirty-something years ago, there was no such thing as domestic goat cheese in the U.S.
Then, in 1979, Laura Chenel went to France to learn how to make it. On her return, she combined her findings with her own ideas. And when she offered the resulting cheese to Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, Alice placed a standing order.
The rest is history, with many considering Laura Chenel’s goat cheese a key ingredient in the “California cuisine” that was born soon thereafter.
Also known as chèvre—French for “goat” and pronounced SHEHV-ruh or just SHEHV—goat cheese is usually a soft, spreadable, fresh-style cheese. But just as there are lots of types of cow’s milk cheeses, goat’s milk cheeses can range from moist and cream cheese-y to dry and sliceable. Technically, all are chèvre, but most often when someone says “chèvre,” they mean the spreadable type.
What all goat cheeses have in common is that unmistakable goatiness—bright, tangy, and a little barnyard-y. (Qualities, by the way, that make it a perfect pairing for Sauvignon Blanc.) It’s that unique earthiness, plus the seductively soft texture, that makes goat cheese such a delicious addition to so many dishes.
If you need more reason to go goat, consider this—goat’s milk is more easily digestible than cow’s, and so can be a good choice for the lactose intolerant. Plus, it’s lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol.
Nowadays, there are lots of artisan goat cheese producers—especially in Northern California. And the number of goat milk products is also growing—besides cheese, there’s drinkable goat milk, plus goat milk kefir, yogurt, ice cream, and more.
But they all owe a debt of gratitude to Laura Chenel, as does anyone who has ever swooned over the delicate delight that is goat cheese.
Hip, hip, hooray!