In the book, "Chevre! The Goat Cheese Cookbook" by Laura Chenel and Linda Siegfried (Peaks Pike Publishing: $9.95 paperback), Chenel and Siegfried cover chevre from its nutritional value to uses in recipes. Chenel gives recipes for making goat cheese at home, tips on handling and storage, as well as a description of some of the California goat cheeses available in markets today plus some of their uses.
All are excellent eaten any time, as is, with bread, fruit or wine. Chenel prefers the lighter cheeses, such as fromage blanc , before or with meals, but the more complex cheeses, such as taupiniere, for dessert. "That is an individual preference. Goat cheese can be eaten any time," Chenel said.
Here are some of the cheeses found in gourmet markets and some supermarkets. Although we describe only Chenel's California-made cheeses, the same information applies to other American and foreign counterparts, when applicable.
A Light, Fresh Cheese
FROMAGE BLANC (fro mage blang)--A fresh, soft cheese, this is the lightest of the chevres. Curds are drained for one day, then lightly whipped. Fromage blanc is available plain or with chopped herbs. Use as a spread for toast, a dip with vegetables, a topping for potato, or as a filling for crepes. This light, fresh cheese can also be diluted with liquid (cream, wine or broth) to use as a sauce. It is also good as a low-calorie dessert, sweetened with sugar, or with cut fruit or whipped cream added.
CHABIS (sha bee)--The traditional cylindrical shape identifies this cheese. It is light, creamy-textured and very mild in flavor. Chabis is cured about one week. Eat as is any time, or use as you would cream cheese.
DISCS--This young, fresh cheese with a round, flat shape comes plain or coated with pepper, dill, paprika or a mixture of herbs. Discs are cured about one week. Use as you would chabis.
LOG--The traditional log-shaped cheese is creamy but slightly more dense than chabis. It is available plain or coated with ash and it is cured for about one week. Use is same as that of chabis.
PYRAMIDE (pea ra meed)--You'll know this cheese by its pyramid shape in its traditional eight-ounce weight. Pyramide is cured slightly longer than chabis and is usually coated with ash. Use is same as that of chabis.
CABECOU (ka ba koo)--These button-like, one-ounce cheeses are cured two to three weeks, then marinated in virgin olive oil and herbs. Cabecou has a nutty flavor and drier texture. Use as is with olives as an appetizer or part of a meal.
TAUPINIERE (toe pee nyair)--This molehill-shaped cheese is aged for three weeks and has an ashed exterior sprayed with an edible white penicillium mold to produce a more complex flavor. Eat as is as dessert with pears, apples or grapes.
CALISTOGAN--The round, flat disc is very creamy and mild in flavor. Calistogan is aged eight to 10 days and may have beginnings of white bloom on the exterior due to aging. Good as is or eaten warm as appetizers or in a salad.
TOME (toem)--The 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-pound wheels of hard goat cheese age for a minimum of four months. The cheese keeps well and becomes sharper with age. An excellent cheese for grating or slicing. Use as you would Parmesan.
CROTTIN (kro tan)--This round and golden colored cheese with a sharp, pronounced goat flavor and dry texture is aged two to three weeks and comes in 2 1/2- to 3-ounce discs. Use as is any time.
Nutritionally speaking, goat cheese is slightly lower in calories than many other cheeses, containing about 82 calories an ounce, compared with 99 calories for cream cheese and 114 calories for Cheddar. Protein content is 4.5 grams per ounce compared to Brie's 5.9 grams and Cheddar's 7.1 grams. Sodium content (salt is added to goat cheese for flavor), is about 280 milligrams per ounce compared to about 176 milligrams for Cheddar and Brie and 84 milligrams for cream cheese.
However, goat cheese, like cow milk cheese, is good food, providing an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus and other trace minerals important for good health. Compared with cow milk, however, goat milk contains higher quantities of potassium, Vitamin A, thiamine and niacin. Goat milk lacks folacin and Vitamin B-12, whereas cow milk is a major source of these two vitamins in the human diet.
Because of chevre's high moisture content, the cheese has a relatively short shelf life (unless it is the aged type). A reputable cheese merchant is some assurance that the stocked cheese is fresh, but when in doubt, taste before buying. Note how cheeses are cared for, Chenel cautioned. "They should not be stored near meats because they readily absorb the aromas and flavors of stronger foods."
Occasionally, the plastic film used for wrapping cheese causes a skin to develop. "This does not indicate spoilage and does not harm the cheese. Simply remove it with a knife," Chenel said.
However, do not confuse fresh chevre with the penicillium-sprayed varieties, such as taupiniere. These cheeses become firm and dry as they age, and they develop a gray or white exterior and a sharp, piquant flavor.
The penicillium-sprayed cheeses keep best when wrapped in wax paper, whereas fresh chevre should be wrapped in plastic. A tight wrapping helps preserve cheese. Storing the goat cheese in the coldest part of the refrigerator will help minimize growth of bacteria.
If you wish to further age a cheese in order to encourage development of a more pronounced flavor, store the cheese in a warmer section of the refrigerator (a butter compartment is good) and wrap loosely in wax paper. Wine cellar temperature of 45 to 50 degrees is considered ideal.
To store cheese that has been cut or partially consumed, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil in order to prevent loss of moisture. "Should mold develop on the surface of the cheese, don't throw the cheese away. Taste it. The mold is edible and you may enjoy its unusual flavor," Chenel said. And don't throw away the cheese that has dried, either. "It can be a great addition to a salad or sauce," Chenel said.
Should you freeze chevre ? "As long as the cheese is in good condition and tightly wrapped in plastic or aluminum foil, its flavor, texture and moisture content will remain unchanged in freezing."
Freeze the cheese in small packages in quantities of one pound or less. Larger pieces freeze slowly, and the extended process can damage the cheese, causing it to crumble when thawed. When thawing chevre from the frozen state, thaw slowly by allowing it to remain undisturbed in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours.
For ultimate enjoyment of the flavor and texture of cheese, be sure to remove chevre (as well as all cheeses) from the refrigerator at least one hour before serving to soften to room temperature.
When cutting cheese, try to "preserve the integrity of the shape," advises Chenel. Pyramides should be cut into quarters, logs in slices and others in wedges.
Chenel's book also gives hints for using goat cheese in cooking.
All cheese is sensitive to heat, Chenel cautions, and goat cheese becomes grainy and may separate when overheated. So beware when heating. Never allow the cheese to overcook.
Handle With Care
When cooking with fromage blanc , for instance, its delicate texture must be handled with care. "If you whip it in a processor or blender, be quick so that the cheese will not turn to liquid," Chenel said.
Some words of caution when using imported cheeses: Domestic cheeses are generally fresher than imported cheese. Because goat cheese tends to develop a stronger flavor as it ages, it is wise to taste before using.
French and Italian cheeses tend to be saltier than domestic types, so taste before using.
And, finally, French fromage blanc contains more whey than the domestic counterpart, so it is best to drain it for one or two hours in a sieve lined with wet cheese cloth.