Cheese making and herb gardening may appear to be at opposite ends of the culinary spectrum. However, the combination of these art forms can produce a lovely combination. As a cheese maker for many years, I have found the perfect pallet, chévre. Chévre is always made with goat milk and is typically eaten when it is only a few days old. This cheese has slightly tangy undertones due to the caprillic acid present in the goat milk. It is somewhat bland thus presenting the perfect background flavor to allow herbal combinations to shine through.
Fresh herbs can add a new dimension to your cheeses.
One does not need to be a cheese maker to experience the sumptuouness of the two products. Several varieties of chévre can be found in the cheese department of most any grocer. For my own use, I prefer to buy direct from small producers—artisan cheese makers. Cheese making is gaining rapidly in popularity in the United States. For many years, it was assumed the best cheeses were imported. However, American cheese makers are making their mark and reproducing European style cheese as well as their own avant-garde creations. These small producers are intimately knowledgeable about their milk, their cheese and their techniques.
Now, back to blending chévre with some classic herbs. The popular French blends, such as Herbes de Provence and Fines Herbes are widely used by specialty cheese makers. Lemon thyme adds a particularly piquant flavor and the simplicity of fresh chives is unsurpassed. My personal favorite, of late, is a fresh chévre rolled in lavender blossoms. This combination is so lovely to the eye and palette.
The process of combining the cheese and the botanicals can be accomplished using several different methods. This is the perfect opportunity to use herbal vinegars. Simply purchase a round of goat cheese (a crottin). Cover the cheese with herbal vinegar and place in the refrigerator for several days. Remove the cheese from the herbal brine and allow to air dry. Slice the cheese and enjoy the subtle flavor the vinegar and herbs impart.
When a soft cheese is used, something with a spreadable consistency, chopped herbs blend well. Add a bit of sour cream for a tasty dip with vegetables or herbed bread sticks.
I enjoy the presentation of a crottin rolled in fresh herbs. To accomplish this, simply allow the cheese to come to room temperature. This, by the way, is the best way to consume any chévre, at room temperature. The cheese will be a bit fragile so carefully roll it in the chosen herbal combination. Some of my favorite blends include:
Classic Herbes de Provence:
Combine the following fresh or dried, chopped herbs. Proportion to taste. Winter savory, thyme, rosemary, basil, tarragon, and lavender flowers. Add to spreadable chévre or roll a crottin in the blend.
Combine fresh or dried, chopped herbs, proportionate to taste. Good choices to use include basil, chervil, tarragon, marjoram and chives. Add to spreadable chévre or roll a crottin in the blend.
Snip fresh chives and blend with spreadable chévre. Add sour cream for a dip. Top with chive blossoms.
Lemon grass and lavender:
Snip lemon grass into small pieces and blend with fresh lavender flowers. Roll a crottin gently in the mix. Garnish with lavender flowers or fresh violets. A treat for the eyes and the pallet!