Nosh Box: Cheese to Please
Bùcheron is a tangy, yet mild, Chèvre that is usually soft and spreadable, Bùcheron comes in logs, either with white rinds or covered with black ash.
CC Pymouss & Kergourlay
… aka, Pairing the Last Rosé of Summer
September shows a split personality. The month blesses us with most of summer’s bounty, yet holds equal promise of fall comfort food. Typically regarded as the harvest month, September also is time to select seasonal cheeses, especially those made from goat’s milk.
Cheese isn’t seasonal the same way that stone fruit or table grapes are. And globally, cheese isn’t seasonal at all. Seasonality applies in the realm of small-scale cheese-makers, like Pacific Cheese in Hayward, or Belfiore Cheese in Berkeley.
A seasonal upturn in milk production, coupled with relatively short aging cycles, cause certain cheeses to peak right about now. Nutty flavored goat-milk cheeses are primary among them.
Goat-Milk Cheese, a.k.a. Chèvre—Sheep-milk cheeses, like Feta, Pecorino Romano, Manchego, and Roquefort are better know, perhaps because sheep outnumber goats by a few percentage points worldwide.
Chèvre, the French word for goat, indicates the broader category of goat’s-milk cheeses. The best-known French varieties come from 100% goat milk, while other varieties, known as Mi-chèvre, may include some cows’ milk.
These cheeses are pure white, and sold in a variety of textures and shapes. They may be coated with herbs, leaves, pepper, or edible ash. All have a relatively brief shelf life of about two weeks when refrigerated. So don’t store at room temperature, or lose track of them in the fridge. Here are the three most notable:
Banon—Produced in Provence’s arid hilly region since Roman chariots spooked the herds, the goat’s milk is cured in chestnut leaves, and the three-inch rounds often are washed in in Cognac. The result is a soft or semi-soft texture, with a lemony flavor.
Banon is at its best starting in spring and remains so through November. So September is prime time. In France, locals eat Banon with a spoon, accompanied by red wines from nearby vineyards. But pairings with whites and Rosés are more popular elsewhere, including stateside.
Bùcheron—A tangy, yet mild, Chèvre that is usually soft and spreadable, Bùcheron comes in logs, either with white rinds or covered with black ash. Serve with sliced craft bread, flatbread, crackers, sliced fruit, or crudités.
Montrache—With a soft, creamy, moist texture, and a mild tang, this white Chèvre originates in Burgundy and is sold in round logs coated with gray salted ash. To be at its best, Montrachet must be very young—and very fresh.
Where to Find Chèvre—In the U.S., uncooked, un-pressed, and un-pasteurized cheese are difficult to purchase because of restrictions on raw-milk products. Since 1986, a ruling by Federal Judge Norma Holloway Johnson has shielded Americans from the perils of raw milk.
But according to Stephen Barrett, M.D., regulations make an “…exception of cheese made from raw milk, provided the cheese has been aged a minimum of 60 days, and is clearly labeled as unpasteurized.” So, no background check required. Just read labels carefully, and caveat emptor.
The local Safeway or Costco will likely stock a goat-milk cheese or two. Lunardi’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and BevMo, will match that and more.
Fortunately, operating in our own back yard is the 600-pound gorilla of cheese merchants, where variety abounds, and sales-folk hold a PhD-equivalent in cheese-craft. If it’s cheese that can be sold legally here, Berkeley’s Cheeseboard Collective will stock it—or can special-order it. Should you cruise by on Shattuck, don’t let the Collective’s unending pizza line two doors down intimidate. The queue for cheese is far shorter.
Domestic Varieties—Can’t find the imported stuff, or just want to buy American? Ask for Aged Goat Gouda, Camellia, Goat Brie, Humboldt Fog, or Midnight Moon.
Whatever you choose, pair it with a chilled glass of local rosé, like coral pink Urbano Cellars’ 2015 Vin Rosé; or 2016 Uncle Roget’s Rosé from Rock Wall. Then savor these tastes and raise a toast to September’s bounty.