Because we can always grab a quart of milk at the store, most of us don’t think of milk as seasonal. But cheesemakers do, especially if they work with goats or sheep. A dairy goat’s output dips and rises as the seasons change. Milk quality goes up and down. In summer, goats are generous but the milk is lean. In winter, supply plunges as farmers let pregnant goats go dry. For flavor and selection, spring is prime time. To experience the year’s finest fresh goat cheeses, leap now.
Foraging at Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco recently, I spotted Délice des Deux-Sèvres (above), a charcoal-gray oval with a tell-tale slump. When you see a soft-ripened cheese start to slouch, you know it has developed an oozy zone—the so-called “cream line”—just under the rind. Even wrapped in cellophane and tucked in a paper bag, the cheese perfumed my car with its mushroom scent on the way home.
What a head-turner on a cheese tray. Logs, disks and cylinders of ashed goat cheese—everybody makes those. But this elegant inch-thick oval, weighing about five ounces, is all but unique. (Caprice des Dieux has the same shape, but it's from cow's milk and made industrially.) It took me a while to realize, but Délice is clearly the same cheese as Ovalié Cendrée, the name that affineur (cheese ager) Hervé Mons uses for the Délice he buys young, ripens and sends to the U.S.
Although in flavor and recipe it resembles some of the classic Loire Valley goat cheeses, Délice comes from the Deux-Sèvres, southwest of the Loire Valley. The family-run creamery makes goat cheese exclusively, including the fabulous leaf-wrapped Mothais-sur-Feuille. Soft-ripened goat cheeses made with pasteurized milk (as both of those are) rarely have such inviting aroma and texture. And fresh spring grass has little to do with it. Goats eat grass only after they've demolished the weeds and brush. They don't like to put their heads down.
A perfectly ripe Délice will have a thin, tender rind with no hint of ammonia. The aroma is pure mushroom, not goaty at all; the flavor mellow and perfectly salted. The texture is light on the tongue, not stodgy or chalky. Add a baguette or walnut bread and pour a Sancerre or Saumur.
In Northern California, look for Délice des Deux-Sèvres at Falletti Foods and both Bi-Rite Markets (San Francisco); Market Hall Foods (Oakland); Draeger’s (multiple locations) and Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. Ovalié Cendrée turns up regularly at Whole Foods and at Cheese Plus in San Francisco.
NEW Cheese Class: Us Versus Them
Can the finest American cheeses stand up to the French? It’s a U. S. versus Europe smackdown this evening as we taste New World wheels against their Old World inspirations. Are we there yet? You be the judge!
Monday, May 8
Silverado Cooking School
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Love It or Lose It
Saturday, April 22, is Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day. Personally, I appreciate them 365 days a year, but it doesn’t hurt to show these endangered cheeses some extra love. Regulators periodically threaten to ban them or, at the least, to make production a much more onerous and costly business.
These cheeses need advocates, which is why retailers around the country are hosting special tastings and events this weekend. Check www.oldwayscheese.org for a listing of RMCA events in your area. Some activities in Northern California:
Market Hall Foods: Taste Fiscalini Farms Lionza and San Joaquin Gold with cheesemaker Mariano Gonzales (Berkeley store); or taste Italy’s Grana Padano with San Daniele ham (Oakland store).
Oxbow Cheese Merchant (Napa): Sample raw-milk cheeses or purchase a raw-milk cheese board to share. To help you celebrate at home, the store will have a list of all raw-milk cheeses in stock.
Pennyroyal Farm (Boonville): Enjoy an hour-long farm tour at 10 a.m. or at 2 p.m. Reserve at 707-895-2410. The tour ends with a tasting.
Rainbow Grocery (San Francisco): Enjoy samples of the staff’s current raw-milk favorites, including Rololphe Le Meunier Comté, Red Barn Edun White Cheddar, Italian Testun and Gabriel Coulet Roquefort.