Goats’ cheese is produced all over the Mediterranean, although we tend to think of it as being French. The most superior chèvre is said to come from Poitou and the Vendée, where goats - known as les vaches des pauvres (‘poor men’s cows’) — are kept for their milk. Goats are raised and milked in every Mediterranean country, even though they produce only 4 litres of milk a day at best, for goats are notoriously temperamental (the word capricious comes from the Latin for goat) They do, however, have the benefit of being able to thrive in the most arid and inhospitable conditions.
Goats’ cheese 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. As each day goes by, and the bacteria work, it grows more forceful; the longer it is kept the more pungent it becomes. Day-old goats’ cheese dredged with sugar and sprinkled with rose water is served as a pudding in Provence.
Goats’ cheese comes in many guises: round young cheeses, cylindrical and conical cheeses, cheeses wrapped in vine, chestnut or savoury leaves, bound with straw or rolled in charcoal. These cheeses also reflect 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.
Marinated chèvre is easy to make at home and the process enhances both flavour and texture. Buy young firm round cheeses that weigh between 55-75 g/2-2½ oz each. Put them on a cake rack overnight in the refrigerator to allow excess moisture to drain off. Next day, put them in a jar with 2 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, 4 small dried hot red chillies and 12 black peppercorns. Cover with olive oil and put on a lid. Leave for a week in the refrigerator before eating, but do not keep for more than six weeks — or they will disintegrate. Serve grilled on toast with a salad of sharp leaves.
© 1995 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.