To me, May will always be goat cheese weather. Walk into any cheese shop, and it's a petting zoo of pretty goodies: goat cheeses wrapped in leaves, rolled in flowers, molded into balls and bells.
It's worth a stroll through Reading Terminal Market or your favorite cheese shop just to check out the Loire Valley bling - the most-prized French goat cheeses appear in spring, just after new pastures have been grazed.
One of the best ways to celebrate this bounty is to assemble a seasonal goat cheese board.
An assortment of complementary cheese is great for serving before dinner; it warms up the palate, and guests won't fill up as fast as they will on heavier cow- and sheep's-milk cheeses. Toss a salad, fire up the coals, and serve a simple grilled salmon supper to follow.
Or make the cheese board your centerpiece and fill in around the edges with farmers' market fare, like steamed asparagus drizzled with olive oil and lemon zest; a salad of arugula and walnuts; and ground cherries (also called Cape gooseberries), still in their papery husks. They have a cherry-tomato sweetness that pairs well with goat cheese, and I like to tell people they are nature's "Hershey's Kisses."
With some fresh bread and a plate of veggies or smoked fish, you have the perfect fixings for a cold supper.
May also marks the beginning of outdoor entertaining, which, of course, means summer beers.
When a friend suggested pairing the cheese with a bottle of Brewer's Art Green Peppercorn Tripel from Baltimore, I was leery at first. But it turned out to be an exceptional pairing for a wide range of cheeses - thus inspiring a green peppercorn and goat cheese board.
Picture a bright, lemony ale with lots of aromatics and plenty of fizz - then cut your imagination loose at the cheese counter.
Keep in mind that fresh goat cheeses are inherently bright and lemony, while aged varieties lean toward peppery notes and express a more herbaceous character.
A tripel can handle them all. It's sprightly (read: highly carbonated) like Champagne, making it ideal for light fare and refreshing as a foil for heavier hunks, like palate-coating triple crèmes.
It's what I like to call a "pairing comet." It shines on every cheese across the board.
A great cheese board, like a great cheese, needs balance. When in doubt, pick one soft cheese and one firm, then fill in with a few unusual lookers to spark conversation.
Since Loire Valley goat cheese is the seasonal sparkler, I selected a ripe half-moon of oozy Selles-sur-Cher that had been carefully aged. Two flavorful hard cheeses - one from Spain and the other from Italy - would anchor the opposite end of the board. To unify this dairy constellation, I opted for a creamy slab of Leonora, a cheese I sometimes refer to as "lemon frosting." It's rich and citrusy - good enough to spread on cake. Lastly: a local chèvre for drizzling with olive oil and fresh herbs.
Pairing cheese with beer, or any spirit for that matter, can seem like alchemy, but it doesn't have to be mystifying. Start with a favorite flavor element, or two, and then look for ways to accentuate it. I used two dominant flavors to guide me here - lemon and green peppercorn - then began working the texture spectrum.
With a few olives and a not-too-sweet Spiced Beer Jelly from Brooklyn's Anarchy in a Jar, I had the makings of a cohesive cheese board.
For my non-beer-loving friends, I stocked up on dry sauvignon blanc and rosé - natural pairings for goat cheese - and a bottle of Junipero Gin, a craft spirit from San Francisco that is citrusy and herbaceous with more spice than evergreen. If you've never had a gin martini alongside a cheese board, you're in for a treat. Try using a twist of lemon or a caper berry instead of an olive for this one.
Then take to the stoop and enjoy the onset of spring.
Makes 2-4 servings
8 ounces fresh chèvre, room temperature
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon green peppercorns, milled or ground
Fresh rosemary and thyme, to taste
Sea salt (optional)
Combine these ingredients to form a uniformly zesty dip, or simply drizzle the olive oil and herbs over a log of fresh goat cheese for a mezze-style appetizer. Set the goat cheese on a lipped plate and press down on it with the back of a spoon, creating a trough for your toppings. Then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with remaining ingredients.
(It's divine with grilled bread or toasted pita. Creamy Kirchenberg Farm Chèvre works especially well, but you can use any fresh goat cheese from the farmers' market.)
- From Tenaya Darlington
Per serving (based on 4): 91 calories, trace protein, trace carbohydrates, no sugar, 11 grams fat, no cholesterol, no sodium, no dietary fiber.EndText