Chèvre – goats’ cheese – is produced all over France, although more than a quarter of that country’s large annual production comes from the south-west. The most superior chèvre is said to come from Poitou and the Vendée, where goats are kept for their milk rather than their meat. Goats are to be found everywhere in France, however, where they are called les vaches des pauvres – poor men’s cows – though they produce only
Chèvre is always made from unpasteurized milk, which is why the character of the cheese changes so quickly. When newly made, a goats’ cheese is mild, but as each day goes by and the bacteria work, it grows more forceful, and the longer it is kept the more pungent it becomes. Day-old goats’ cheese is a pudding in Provence, when dredged with sugar and sprinkled with rose water. Such a sweet chèvre could also be served with a sharp raspberry coulis.
Chèvre comes in many guises: round young cheeses, cylindrical and conical cheeses, cheeses wrapped in vine, chestnut or savory leaves, cheeses bound with straw or rolled in charcoal. Chèvre also reflects the seasons, being fragrant in the spring when the goats eat young grass and herbs, and more acidic as autumn approaches and the grazing coarsens. Niolo, a powerful goats’ cheese to partner full-bodied red wines, is a speciality of Corsica, but is only produced from May to October.
Put the cheeses on a cake rack over a bowl. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight to allow excess moisture to drain off.
Next day, put them in a jar with the bay leaves, thyme, chillies and peppercorns. Cover with olive oil and put on a lid. Leave for a week in the fridge before eating, but do not keep for more than six weeks. After that they will disintegrate.
Preheat a hot grill. Make a salad of sharp leaves such as rocket or dandelion and toss with the vinaigrette to dress them.
Toast the baguette slices on one side only. Place half a drained marinated cheese on the untoasted side of each baguette slice and grill until the cheese starts to melt.
Pile the dressed rocket or dandelion leaves on individual plates, lay 2 cheese toasts on top and serve while they are still piping hot. The oil in which the cheeses have been kept makes a nice salad dressing with a squeeze of lemon juice.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.