One of a kind. Unique. Those words are tossed around a lot but are rarely accurate when it comes to cheese. If it’s a good idea, someone has probably done it. But as far as I know, this splendid, scoopable bark-wrapped goat cheese occupies a category of one. Chef José Andrés nudged the creamery to create it, so we can add that to his long list of good works.
Maryland’s FireFly Farms has been making Merry Goat Round, a Brie-style goat cheese, since 2002. It’s the creamery’s flagship cheese and a big seller at the Dupont Circle farmers’ market in the nation’s capital. Along with other celebrity chefs, José Andrés shops there and he became a fan of the cheese.
Andrés told Firefly co-owner Mike Koch that he preferred Merry Goat Round when it was on the verge of runny, like the sheep’s-milk Torta del Casar from Spain. You should make a cheese like that, Andrés said, a cheese so ripe that it bursts. Koch knew such a cheese would need to be corralled with a band, like Jasper Hill’s Harbison and Winnimere, both from cow’s milk. What would happen if he simply banded a batch of Merry Goat Rounds and let them age longer?
Released in 2017, the Merry Goat Round Spruce Reserve is made with the identical recipe as the original. But when the 12-ounce wheels are just a few days old, they are wrapped with a strip of spruce bark that has been softened in hot salt water to make it flexible. Over the next 10 to 12 weeks, the cheese will develop a bloomy rind, soften and eventually start to dimple and crater on the surface. That’s your sign to pounce.
With a sharp knife, cut around the perimeter of the top crust and peel it away. Keep the spruce band in place to contain the cheese. Then scoop the soupy interior onto crostini or chunks of bread.
“The impact the wood has on the color of the paste and the deep umami flavor is just remarkable to me,” says Koch. “If you put ripe Merry Goat Rind next to ripe Spruce Reserve, they are different.” The Spruce Reserve has an ivory interior, with aromas of mushroom and mustard.
Koch and his partner, Pablo Solanet, buy their goat’s milk from neighboring Amish farms. The two are fierce proponents of sustainable practices. Spruce Reserve won a Good Food Award immediately, in 2018, and its success is bringing renewed attention to the rest of FireFly Farms’s output.
Two years ago, Koch and Solanet took the first wheels of Spruce Reserve to José Andrés at his home. Showman that he is, Andrés recorded the tasting on Facebook.
Look for FireFly Farms Merry Goat Round Spruce Reserve at these retailers. Enjoy it with a saison or a Belgian-style pale ale.