This column originally appeared in the Bloomington Herald Times on February 25, 2003.
Goat cheese has an attitude, an edgy savor that tells you right off: this is not your grandmother's Velveeta. But if it's not the tame smoothness of orange processed cheese, neither is it quite the sharpness of a well-aged Cheddar, or the musty pungency of a blue - nor yet the blow-you-away funkiness of the so-called "stinky cheeses," like Limburger or Livarot.
No, goat cheese is distinctively itself, and it is a delight, from the fresh, soft cheeses that spread on crusty bread like sweet, tangy butter, to the aged, washed rind cheeses that combine a hint of the barnyard with the kick of the goat - a cheese lover's treat served alone or perhaps with honey or jam.
Goat cheeses, sometimes called by the French name chevre, are a central part of the world's cheese repertoire. Europeans pile them high in the markets - tiny buttons, downy with white mold, disks wrapped in brandy-soaked chestnut leaves, pyramids or flat donuts covered with gray ash, small firm cheeses marinating in fruity olive oil, and rolls of soft fresh cheese bristling with herbs and dusted with orange spice.
Here in the heartland of American, though, however, our choices are more limited.
What's a Bloomington -based goat-cheese lover to do? While the Internet has made it possible to do one's cheese shopping in France for next day delivery, and Indy offers a decent selection of imports, I prefer a much better, much fresher, much more authentic solution - real world class goat cheese in our own back yard.
Capriole Farms, in Greenville, produces
Available year round at Bloomingfoods (and in limited variety at Tina's), in the summer Capriole Farms cheese makes regular appearances at the Saturday Bloomington Community Farmers Market, where owner and cheesemaker Judy Schad and her husband, Larry, offer samples, sell their wares, and otherwise educate Bloomington's palate on the pleasures of goat cheese.
Here's what they've got. The playful, creamy fresh cheeses include the Banons, wrapped in bourbon-soaked chestnut leaves (a Kentucky twist on the French tradition), the thimble-sized Chevre Aperitifs, and the Fromage a Trois Torta, - cheese layered with basil, pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes. These can be used like cream cheese (though they are a bit more piquant), marinated, or crumbed into a salad with grilled flank steak or shrimp.
The more complex surface-ripened cheeses have a velvety white rind and include some of the ones that have made Schad famous: the Wabash Cannonball, the 1995 American Cheese Society Best of Show, and the Crocodile Tear, also an award winner. These are great served on their own with a fragrant chutney, or warmed and served over dressed bitter greens or grilled vegetables.
The assertive and exuberant semi-hard aged cheeses are the most memorable. The Old Kentucky Tomme, a firm, slightly salty cheese, gets more pungent as it ages. Headier still is the Mont St. Francis that at its height can challenge the big beefy European cheeses like Epoisses, Livarot, and Taleggio.
Make no mistake - these cheeses can smell! Do not be put off, though. The taste is pronounced, but nutty and buttery, and for those dedicated cheese lovers who can cross the nose barrier, a reward worth the effort. They are the crowning glory of an after dinner cheese plate.
Eating her cheese is a soulful experience, but even talking cheese with Judy Schad is a trip. Her personality is as big and embracing as a Mont St. Francis, without the olfactory edge. Her former life as an English scholar lurks behind her punchy, provocative turn of phrase. ("The French have seven hundred years of experience, they've got experimental cheese stations, and their milk supply is subsidized," she told The New Yorker. "But my Mont St. Francis can kick a French Muenster all the way across the Atlantic .") She's fast and funny and she loves cheese.
Schad started making goat cheese in her kitchen over 20 years ago, from the milk that her daughters' 4-H goats produced. Today her cheeses can be found on the cheese cart at first class restaurants including New York's Picholine and Chicago's Spiaggia. She's been written up in Louisville Magazine, People, and The New Yorker. Cheese maven Steve Jenkins, author of The Cheese Primer )Workman, 1996), declares her cheeses are "American treasures."
She herself is more jazzed (to use a favorite Schad word) than ever about cheese, but rather than turning her attention to global expansion, she is focusing it closer to home. With the growth of local farm markets, Schad has found an outlet for selling her cheese that she is deeply committed to, and that fits her farmstead cheese-making philosophy.
Farmstead cheese is about cheese made on the farm from the milk of the animals that forage right there, the cheese changing with the seasons as the available forage changes. It is local, local, local. So is farmers market sales, and it enables Schad to establish what amounts to a personal relationship with her customers.
She says, "The face to face behind the table is what farm markets are all about. As I make a cheese, age it, wrap it, I think about who is buying it. Is it beautiful? Does it taste good? I'll have the answers on Saturday morning when I have to literally stand behind the cheese."
Schad believes that the farmers
market approach to sales encourages and sustains the growth of small farm
American cheese making in a model much closer to European agriculture than U.S. global
"The food is not cheaper because maintaining family farms in a global economy is not a low cost endeavor, but there is no doubt that corn picked and sold within several hours is better than corn that's been in transit for a week before it gets to the supermarket.
"Also we are maintaining our green space, supporting ethical agriculture and animal management and the family farmers who care about the land, the animals, and the quality of the food they produce."
Schad is convinced that, eventually, "local and regional producers will be able to make a living in their own back yards." Those of us in southern Indiana can be very grateful that her back yard is also ours.
Judy Schad sells her cheeses at the Bloomington Community Farmers Market on Saturdays in the summer, at the Bardstown Road Market in Louisville, and at her own "On-the-Farm Market" open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, where she also sells some of her other favorite farmstead cheeses from around the country. Market details and directions to her farm can be found at www.capriolegoatcheese.com.
Judy Schad's Herbed Marinated Goat Cheese
Chevre apéritifs or other small fresh goat cheeses
Several roasted garlic cloves
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
good olive oil, or olive oil/canola oil mix
Place cheese in a sterile jar with garlic, basil, thyme, and rosemary.
Cover with oil. Put top on jar and refrigerate. Allow to marinate for at least a week for cheese to absorb oil and flavor from herbs and garlic.
Refrigerated, the cheese should be fine for several months. Allow to come to room temperature before use and serve as an appetizer or light lunch with crusty baguette and olives on the side, or on a salad.
When cheese is gone, the remaining oil is great mixed with a good balsamic vinegar as a salad dressing.