I never had much use for goats until they started marketing goat cheese. I can’t recall when my first encounter with this lovely product took place, but I do know that it was transformative. And, while I can’t say I’m addicted to goat cheese, I do tend to choose restaurant items that include it in the dish. Goat cheese itself comes in many guises. Fresh goat cheese has a tangy, sharp quality and creamy texture that works wonderfully with pastas and salads. One of my favorite salads is roasted beets with crumbled fresh goat cheese over arugula with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Another great salad is one I developed years ago with pecan-crusted warmed goat cheese rounds over mesclun, served with Mandarin oranges, pecans, and a sherry vinaigrette. Fresh tagliatelle with grilled shrimp, goat cheese, grilled cherry tomatoes, torn basil, and gently tossed with a touch of olive oil is a perfect weekday summer dinner.
Aged goat cheese is another delight for the senses with a totally different profile from its younger siblings. The French have the upper hand in this department, delivering an ever evolving product that delights the palate with its nuances and quirks. Aged goat cheese requires a “big” wine like a cabernet or a zinfandel. Its nutty, slightly dry texture is best enjoyed on its own, or with a some dried apricots or figs. One of my favorite goat cheeses is the Classic Blug Log from Westfield Farm in Hubbardston, Massachusetts. (www.chevre.com/clasblulog.html) If you don’t have time to take a vacation, this will transport you to another world. It has a haunting blue cheese flavor combined with the incredible bite of a traditional chevre. Like most great things in life, it is more than the sum of its parts, and well worth ordering from this reputable cheesemaker.
Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad
6 oz. fresh goat cheese, your choice
To prepare beets: Prick beets with fork and wrap individually in foil. Place in 400 degree oven for at least an hour. They will be done when a knife can be easily inserted and removed. Let beets cool and then refrigerate. When ready to use, remove skin with a vegetable peeler or rub off with your fingers. (Yes, you will have pink hands afterwards – wash up!).
Slice beets into thick slices and then crosswise into medium chunks. Crumble goat cheese over arugula and scatter beets on top. Make a homemade balsamic vinaigrette using 1/4 balsamic vinegar to 3/4 extra virgin olive oil, some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle a small amount over salad, taking care not to drown it in dressing.
Pecan-Crusted Chevre with Mandarin Oranges and Mesclun
1 large log fresh goat cheese (about 11 oz.)
1 can Mandarin oranges, refrigerated
Pecan bits (available at certain grocery stores, or take pecan pieces, place them in a plastic zip-lock bag, and smash them into smaller pieces)
Assorted lettuces – bibb, radicchio, mache, watercress, frisee (or quality Spring Mix).
Arrange lettuces on individual salad plates. Sprinkle extra pecan bits over lettuce and arrange Mandarin oranges over lettuce mixture.
Cut goat cheese into 1″ rounds using a sharp knife and washing blade in hot water between cuts. Gently press pecan pieces onto both sides of goat cheese rounds and refrigerate until ready to use. In a 350 degree oven place goat cheese rounds on a cookie sheet lined with foil and bake for 8 minutes. Remove carefully with spatula and place two rounds in center of each salad plate, slightly overlapping. Dress with a sherry vinaigrette.
P.S. The most lethal form of goat cheese usage is my goat cheese and pistachio spread. It is so damn good it deserves its own blog. Stay tuned.