There is an ingredient out there that is used in the kitchens of fine restaurants with almost as much frequency as the ubiquitous foie gras. It’s the star of many a vegetarian main dish, and this year I have noticed it becoming a summer staple. Produced in most countries in the world, this cheese has a huge number of fans. Sadly I am not one of them. So I set out to discover more about this very popular cheese I would really love to enjoy, but just cannot seem to.
The ingredient I am referring to is, of course, goat’s cheese. Now I have been trying to like goat’s cheese for about twenty years now. I can remember the first time I tasted it, taking a piece from a cheese platter at a dinner party. We were chatting about the cheeses on the platter and when I asked what kind of cheese this particular one was the reply was “chevre”. I was very good at French in school and I do manage to get by when we visit my husband’s old school friends in France, but I'd had a couple glasses of wine and it took me a minute to remember that chevre meant goat. Just about as much time as it took me to get the cheese to my lips in fact.
I cannot honestly say that I tasted that piece of cheese in an unbiased manner, as the horror of the word I had just translated in my head was only just beginning to seep through. Nothing against goats you understand, but having been forced to participate in numerous school trips to local farms as a child I was not a huge fan of these animals. The thing about goats for me is that they look so cute from a distance, but when you get close up they look dirty and the smell, well, let’s just not go there. Not only that, but they tend to nip when you feed them – rather painfully in fact – although I was assured this was just nuzzling. Yeah right.
So the piece of cheese I tasted immediately took on a life of its own, and all those overwhelming farmyard smells of the past assailed my brain. I just managed to swallow it. I did not, I decided, like goat’s cheese at all.
This is a real shame, because goat’s cheese is actually incredibly good for you. Easier to digest than cheese made from cow’s milk and full of calcium and nutrients, it’s smaller fat globules make it easier to digest than bovine alternatives. It’s also an incredibly versatile cooking ingredient and is lower in cholesterol than cheese made from cow’s milk.
Everyone else I know seems to love goat’s cheese. Not only that, but they are vocal campaigners for it. Whenever I have had the temerity to admit I don’t actually like it, I find folks are very quick to come to its defence. Their major argument is that not all goat’s cheese tastes the same. This is very true. In fact, the French goat’s cheese I tasted the first time was probably the strongest sort available, due to the diet consumed by French goats. You see goat’s cheese tastes different depending on where it is made because the diet goats eat varies wildly from country to country. For example, while Canadian goat’s cheese is quite mildly flavoured, Spanish goat’s cheese is more distinctive as the goats eat wild herbs. English goat’s cheese tastes different yet again. Incidentally, the old wives’ tale that goats will eat garbage if they are allowed to is not true. Goats are just naturally curious and will nibble anything just to find out what it is (including my fingers). However they won’t actually eat it, indeed goat farmers are quick to point out that goats are actually quite fussy and will refuse poor quality food.
The other good thing about goat’s cheese is that most of it is made in a way that makes it suitable for vegetarians. This means you can use it when cooking for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, a real boon if you have both carnivores and herbivores coming to dinner. This does raise a problem for me though.
Although I am far from vegetarian, I love vegetarian food and often like to order it in restaurants. Unfortunately, more and more, the vegetarian choice on a lot of menus includes goat’s cheese. One of my favourite vegetarian pizzas in our local pizzeria is now off limits for me as they have replaced the mozzarella with goat’s cheese, much to my intense disappointment. In fact, in most restaurants I have been to recently, there is a surfeit of dishes containing this ingredient. It’s almost getting hard to avoid!
So, I have continued to attempt to like goat’s cheese. Over the last few months, I have re-tasted the French variety, sampled Italian Caprino, British goat’s cheese, Canadian goat’s cheese and everything in between. I have tasted crumbly White Nancy and I have even sampled the hysterically named Welsh Pantysgawn. (Okay it doesn’t sound funny if you pronounce it correctly in Welsh, but if you pronounce it phonetically – well, I’ll leave you to do that for yourselves.)
I really, truly, do not like any of the goat’s cheeses I have tasted, and goodness knows I have tried to! Now goat farmers will insist that improved farming methods and hygiene have ensured that goat’s cheese no longer has the terrible smell it’s reputation has been tarnished with, and I agree that is the case, but it still does not help. I have even tasted goat’s cheese not knowing it was goat’s cheese and somehow knew from the taste what it was.
So sadly for me, I don’t think I will ever be a convert to this amazing cheese. I’d urge anyone to try it though. You can eat it as it comes with bread or crackers or you can cook with it very successfully. I’m told it is lovely toasted or even fried, and friends of mine have recipes for everything from peppers with lentils and goats cheese to roasted tomato and goat’s cheese tart. You can even make cheesecake with it! Added to its versatility are the clear health benefits of a cheese that is lower in cholesterol, calories and fat than other cheeses.
Actually, when I put it that way, it really does sound like the perfect cheese! Perhaps I’ll just give it one more try…