You see them everywhere in France and especially in the Loire and Poitou. Rows upon rows or piled high in straw-lined boxes, tiny rounds, logs, hearts and pyramids covered in wrinkly rinds with splodges of delicate blue grey mould.
These are the cheeses made with a sprinkling of geotricum candidum, a special yeast that's similar to mushroom mould. After this yeast is added to the milk, a few days later a thin, creamy pink rind appears.
Most of these cheese are made with goats’ milk and are commonly referred to as “Chevre”. Contrary to popular belief, chevre does not simply mean “goat cheese” but refers to this specific style of goat cheese. To translate “salade de chevre” to mean a salad made with any goat cheese is as ridiculous as calling a salad made with camembert, blue cheese or cheddar, gouda or halloumi, simply “cow cheese salad” – there's generally more to it than meets the eye and your guests may ask questions.
An authentic “salade de chevre chaud” needs an aged fresh cheese like Crottin de Chavignol, Chabichou, Valencay or St Maure log. Thin slices are laid on rounds of baguette or ciabatta with a flash of oil then grilled. To create this dish at home, place two or three pieces of cheese on a bed of lamb's lettuce or little gem lettuce, top with walnuts and a light vinaigrette. That’s it, simple and utterly delicious.
When the rind is young, it'll boast a soft, pink-white surface, with a slightly grainy texture and a nutty, creamy taste with barely a hint of goats' milk. Like people, as cheese ages, its skin dries out and the wrinkles deepen. But unlike people, a delicate grey-blue mould spreads across the surface and with time the taste intensifies. Delicious for some but not if you've sworn off goats' milk.
Something to try:
Region of origin: Rhone, Lyon
Unbelievably moreish, this cheese was on the menu in every restaurant, café or bar I visited recently in Lyon and the cheese shop in Les Halles du Lyon, offered more than 40 different varieties. So many cheese, so little time.
Region of origin: Charentes, Loire Valley, Poitou
Made by numerous small producers in Poitou (below the Loire) this is one of my favourites. Always slightly gooey around the edges, nutty in taste and boasting delicate aromatic notes from the goats’ milk when lightly grilled, try this cheese with a local fortified wine Pineau des Charentes or an off dry rosé.
To view the full range of La Fromagerie cheeses and Maison Vauron French wines, see their website here.