Goat's Milk Cheeses, From Blah to Superstar

For many years a goat's milk cheese was just mundane. Produced in abundance in France south of the Loire, it had become as boring as many of the ordinary wines of the region. But in the 1970s, with revived interest in fresh and imported foods, goat's milk cheeses experienced the same kind of Renaissance as wine.

Finding its historical origins in goats raised by the Moors during the 8th century, their descendants have settled in the Loire Valley and Poitou. Made from goats raised in Picodon, Rocamadour or Chabichou du Poitou these delectable cheeses are as tasty to the tongue as the sound of their names are wonderful to the ear. But the French hardly have a monopoly.

Mató, a fresh cheese from the Catalan regions of Spain is just as delightful as the French version across the border. Castelo Branco is a type made from Portuguese goat's milk, while pantysgawn hails from Wales. Even the vaunted Greek halloumi is a match for any French chèvre. ('Chèvre' is French for 'goat'.)

Whatever the origin, goat's milk cheeses have some distinctive characteristics. Though both goat's and cow's milk have about the same percentage of fat content, the former has more caproic and capric acid (types of fatty acids) than the latter. This gives goat's milk, and hence the cheese, its sharp, tangy flavor.

The final product ranges from fresh to blue veined, with natural mold on the rind. The best are produced between March and November, during the period when young goats are weaned. It typically takes only a few weeks at most to produce a wonderful fresh goat cheese, and they are intended to be consumed right away.

Most form cheeses in which the pate is soft, and makes for a delicious treat when heated and spread onto a tasty Baguette. Aging will produce a harder cheese, ranging from semi-hard to brittle. The rind will then often acquire a bluish mold as the cheese ages.

They may come plain, with that delightfully pure disctinctive flavor or they may be produced with added herbs or peppers, making for a zingy option. Some are soaked in olive oil, producing a wonderful mixture of tastes. Even the shape can influence the flavor, with all manner of pyramid, wheel and Bonde used.

A fine choice is the Crottin de Chavignol from the milk of alpine goats. Fresh from the vat, laced with fresh herbs, this is a golden blend of taste and nutrition. Or, you can acquire it at a more mature stage when it has hardened and assumed a more robust flavor. Both are excellent.

Another superb cheese is the Picodon de Chèvre, made from the milk of goats raised in the Ardèche and Drôme regions of France. Like wines, France has an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) system that guarantees that a certain product does actually come from the region of the product's name. In this case, the name is well earned. Pungent, with a slight tartness that is unbeatable, this cheese will disappear from the table fast.

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