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Saturday, January 31, 2004

All About Goat Cheese (chèvre)

You've probably heard the famous quote from General de Gaulle during the May riots of 1968 "How can anyone govern a country with 246 different cheeses?" Believe it or not, there are many more cheeses than that now. The real number may be impossible to know, but estimates run anywhere between 500 to 600 different cheeses in France alone.

While at the Fancy Food show earlier this month I got to try several different fromage de chevre or French style goat cheeses, maybe ten different varieties in all. In the US, goat cheese has gotten much more popular in last ten years or so. As proof, I can now buy a log of Laura Chenel's soft creamy chevre at Costco. And it's excellent.

Of course there isn't the variety you get in France. In Paris, there are tiny little cheese stores (fromageries) that sell more types of goat cheese than you can imagine. They come in a variety of shapes including cylinders, discs, cones and pyramids, and like beautiful presents, some are covered in ash, pepper, herbs or leaves and tied with twine. They can range in texture from moist and creamy to dry and semifirm. As you might be able to guess one of my favorite things to shop for in Paris is goat cheese. I buy as many as I can carry to take home the day before I leave.

If you haven't tried it or warmed up to it yet, don't be afraid, goat cheese is really quite mild, like a tangy version of cream cheese and as such it is tremendously versatile.

Here are some of my favorite things to do with goat cheese:

* Spoon a bit of goat cheese onto endive spears and top with chopped walnuts

* Stuff thin roasted slices of eggplant with goat cheese and toasted pine nuts, serve with a light tomato sauce or red pepper puree

* Spread on slices of apple, drizzle with honey for a light dessert

*Crumble over a sliced fresh tomato salad

* Slice chilled goat cheese into discs, place on top of a slice of French bread, toast or broil until warmed through and serve over a tossed green salad

* Layer slices of goat cheese on a grilled portabello mushroom, layer on roasted red peppers and wilted spinach to make a roasted vegetable napoleon

* Spread goat cheese on toasted baguette slices or cucumber rounds and top with sliced smoked salmon

* Mix with any fresh chopped herbs you like, ground pepper and thin with milk or cream to make an herb cheese spread for crackers

* Combine drained artichoke hearts and goat cheese, pulse in the food processor and serve over toasted baguette slices, serve at room temperature or heat in broiler

* Mix bits of it into scrambled eggs

* Pat goat cheese around grapes until covered roll in you hand into a round shape, then roll the covered grape in finely chopped pistachios or walnuts