“Any goat eggs today?” I asked with mock anxiety, and a face to match.
Remy, the goat-cheese vendor at Leuven’s morning market, wrung his hands. No, alas, he was fresh out of goat eggs.
A little girl, dismayed, tugged nervously at her mother’s sleeve. Still, Remy had almost everything else I like, goat-wise, from goat sausage and goat bacon (both lovely, especially with sturdy red wine) to several kinds of fantastic chevre (goat’s-milk cheese) made at his facility in eastern Flanders, Belgium.
The goat-egg scenario is one we often repeat at Remy’s stand, a popular place at every weekend morning market for lovers of his fresh, fantastic chevre. I wish I could give you some right now. Par chevre on a label, by the way, means the cheese is made entirely of goat’s milk.
Americans have been enjoying chevre since the 1960s, parallel to the natural food movement. Japan has no traditional goat-mindedness, so to speak, but chevre would surely delight most Japanese. Fifteen Japanese scholars and their wives attending a wine and cheese seminar I recently presented in Leuven loved chevre, if that’s any clue.
Chevre I enjoy regularly, always with wine, includes plain chevre, chevre brie, chevre with herbs, chevre cendre (vegetable ash-coated), chevre feta immersed in olive oil and chevre coated with paprika or (this is my glorious favorite) chevre coated with coarse ground pepper. Ah, the aroma!
With these cheeses I usually enjoy dry, fruity chenin blanc, but other wines, even roses and light reds, work well depending on the type of chevre. In France, chevre cendre is usually made in wine-producing regions.
I like taking the example of chevre because, like pasta, it has many variations calling for different wines. Would you choose the same wine for spaghetti bolognese, spaghetti carbonara and spaghetti with clam sauce? I hope not. Respectively, light to medium-body reds for the first two and dry whites for the last are logical possibilities.
So it goes with chevre, to take a good example from the cheese world. Consider the flourishes: paprika, herbs, olive oil, etc. In general, wine-wise, think white and light and dry. This won’t fit perfectly with everything you eat, but whatever you eat, dry white won’t overwhelm it.
Another thing cheese has in common with its gastronomic soul-mate, wine, is a long history going back to biblical times when cheese-making was a means of preserving milk. It still is, even today, for people like the nomadic Bedouins, who make cheese as they go. Moisture on cheese may cause mold, but if you treat cheese right it’s unlikely to go bad. Soft cheeses have more moisture than hard types and may show mold sooner, but in any case it takes a while for mold to affect the entire piece, and even then, mold on natural cheeses won’t hurt you.
Wrapping the cheese in foil helps it breathe and release moisture, thus deterring molding and drying out. Wax coating protects whole cheeses and they firm up and gain flavor as they lose moisture. You’ll find that you can refrigerate firm and hard cheeses such as cheddars and goudas for many weeks, and perhaps for even a few months. Since cheese won’t ripen in the freezer, don’t freeze unripe cheese. I dislike freezing cheese of any kind. My refrigerator is rather ordinary, but its bottom-drawer compartments effectively preserve cheeses in their original wrappers and boxes without freezing them into tasteless, recalcitrant rocks.
Still, there’s a limit before mold sets in. I’ve found that cheeses in the blue family linger on longer than most others. At my parties I always serve wine and cheese, and a few hours before my parties I take out the cheeses and let them sit and soften up. Otherwise their taste and texture will both suffer considerably. Then — poof! There goes your wine-and-cheese pleasure.
Belgium for its part has a wide variety of cheeses that deserve your attention. One I’m enjoying more and more these days is Passendale, a cheese in the French Pyrenees family, of which more later. Another to keep in mind is Old Chimay, very nice with a medium-body red. For a list of importers and their contact numbers call the agricultural officer at the Belgian Embassy.
Meantime, make sure you have a good cheese cutting-board and appropriate knives. Soft cheeses pose no problem, but for hard cheeses you need a “pull-back” type cheese knife with a horizontal slot. Say, how about a wine-and-cheese party during Thanksgiving? For thousands of years wine and cheese have provided a lot to be thankful for, and they constantly get better. Cheers!