Paris, France — Today is National Cheese Day in France. Not as if in a country where there are more than 1,000 different varieties of cheese that you need a cheese day to sit down and enjoy one of the great treasures of French gastronomy served with fine wine, fine bread and yes why not fine butter to go along with it all. It is a day to remind one and all and gourmets the world over that French cheese made from raw milk is of national importance. Cheese making has fashioned the country’s landscape through the various breeds of grazing animals to the land and landscapes that they graze in. It is each one of these items in addition to unique fermentation and aging techniques that make the cheeses of France unique. The French consume on average 26 kilos (57 pounds) of cheese per person annually. France produces 200,000 tons of raw milk cheese and of the over 1,000 different cheeses in France only 45 enjoy the coveted AOP Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée or controlled designation of origin label.
Today the Gourmet Gazette brings you goat cheese and a few ways to prepare it outside of the traditional cheese board. While goat cheeses are produced throughout the land, today we introduce you to those of the Loire Valley, young, aged, or dusted with flavorful food-grade ash. The Loire Valley, where the CRIEL, the French acronym for the Professional Dairy Producers of Central France, operates and promotes local cheeses, is regarded as the cradle of goat cheese production in France, one of the leading producers in the land and is home to no less than 5 goat cheeses with the protected designation of origin label (AOP). Enjoy Chavignol, a cheese aged for at least four to six weeks, sliced, drizzled with honey on thick whole wheat bread with thinly sliced smoked duck breast slices just popped into the oven for five minutes to melt the cheese and served with a side salad of your favorite greens.
We enjoyed this easy recipe of button mushrooms stuffed with Selles-sur-Cher goat cheese blended with cream, fresh rosemary and fresh thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Clean the mushrooms, de-stem and peel the mushroom caps and place a spoonful of the goat cheese mixture on each mushroom then bake for 20 minutes.
A goat cheese board from this region includes a crouton or small round of Chavignol, the pyramid shaped Pouligny Saint-Pierre (enjoyed with dried apricots), a Sainte-Maure de Touraine, delicious with blackberry jam and a glass of Vouvray, the hazel nut flavored Selles-sur-Cher which is a marvel paired with a Pouilly Fumé and a Valençay with honey and a glass of Sancerre. For contrary to at times traditional advice, white wines are being thoroughly enjoyed with cheeses especially the goat cheeses which do well with dry whites like those of the Touraine and Loire Valley regions.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette