26 July 2011
Our fresh chevre is an artisan cheese and also a farmstead cheese. Artisan cheeses are manufactured by hand using the traditional craftsmanship of skilled cheesemakers. These cheeses tend to be more complex in taste and variety. Part of the artisan cheese making process is aging and ripening to develop flavor and textural characteristics. These characteristics contrast with the milder flavor of mass produced cheeses made in large scale operations by large equipment and often shipped and sold right away.
One type of artisan cheese is farmstead cheese. This means that the cheese is made with the milk from the producer’s own herds of cows, sheep, and goats at the sight of the cheesemaking facility. Even though we use the milk of my parents’ cows, they are located in Brooks County so therefore, our cow’s milk cheeses are not technically classified as farmstead. All of our goats live here at Sweet Grass Dairy and this is also the sight of the cheese plant, so we can categorize our goat cheeses as farmstead. Any cheesemaker who buys milk from another source even if they have some of their own animals, are not true farmstead producers.
The Fresh Chevre is our easiest cheese making process. We gently pasteurize the milk at 145 degrees for 30 minutes and then cool it back down to room temperature. Along the way we add a mix of cultures and some microbial rennet. We let the milk set overnight and then hand ladle the curds the next morning. There is no cutting of the curds with the cheese knives, but rather just a draining into cheese cloth about 14 hours or so after adding the cultures. After the chevre has been drained for a day or two (it varies with how quickly the curds take to drain), the cheese is salted and packaged into 5 pound containers. We repack the chevre into the small 6 ounce or 4 ounce containers as needed. The whole process takes 4 days which is why we can offer this cheese fresh each week that the goats are milking.
This is our highest yield cheese. Jeremy is able to get about an 18% yield when making this cheese. (Meaning for every 100 lbs of milk, he will get about 18 lbs of cheese when it is ready to sell.) This particular batch was made on May 29, 2011.
What makes this cheese special?
The Fresh Chevre is really special because it is so simple and versatile. Even though it has a very simple procedure and recipe, it is one of the best cheeses to really taste the quality of the milk. There is an old cheesemaker adage that says “You cannot create good cheese from bad milk, but you can make bad cheese from good milk.” High quality, fresh milk is the cornerstone of a good cheese. It is important to make cheese with very fresh milk—no more than 2 or 3 days old. We make the Fresh Chevre at least once a week while the goats are in lactation. This cheese also takes on different flavor profiles during different times of the year and depending on what the goats are eating. No other cheese offers a more pure glimpse into the quality of the milk than the fresh chevre. That is why when we won a first place award for fresh goat cheese at the American Cheese Society’s competition, we took that as more of a compliment to our way of farming and care of our goats than we did as a reflection of our cheesemaking ability.
The Chevre is so versatile in that it can be used in a wide variety of applications. It can be spread on toast or crackers, used in recipes that call for cream cheese such as cheesecake, or stuffed in peppers for antipasti platters. I always think of this cheese as our “chef’s” cheese because of its popularity with our wholesale restaurant accounts. The Fresh Chevre is fun to experiment with in a lot of different recipes.
The Fresh Chevre has a very mild flavor profile. In the Spring and early Summer, I find that the chevre takes on more grassy, floral and citrusy flavors. In the late Summer and Fall, it has a more herbaceous, tangy, earthy flavor. This is directly a result of the lacatation cycle and the diet of the goats. In the Spring, the goats are eating a mixture of ryegrass, oats, and crimson clover. In the late Summer and Fall, the goats are eating a deer feed mixture of millet, summer clover, cow peas, and all the natural shrubs and brush of our 100 acres of woods. Because of the lower fat and natural characteristics of goats milk, we find that the chevre is more tangy and acidic than the sweeter cow’s milk cheeses no matter what time of the year it is.
The finish of the fresh chevre is really surprising. Because of its creaminess, the texture and the flavors of the chevre usually tends to last a long time. With the high quality milk, gentle handling of the curds, and balance of salt, this cheese really lingers on your palate long after you have swallowed the bite.
Aroma and Appearance:
All fresh cheeses should smell really clean with very little aroma. We often have customers in the retail shop that automatically walk in and say that they don’t like fresh goat cheeses because of the overwhelmingly strong smell and flavor like a billy goat. They have been unfortunate victims of cheese made with not very clean or fresh milk. The soft-ripened goat cheeses such as the Georgia Pecan Chevre and Lumiere can take on a strong “goatiness” but the fresh chevre should never taste like you are licking a goat.
The appearance is a bright white color with a loose and fluffy texture. We package the fresh chevre in a plastic container, but other producers sell it vacuum sealed in tubes or in bulk tubs or crocks. One particular cheesemaker in Texas, Pure Luck Dairy, lets the cheese drain in a basket mold, producing a beautiful little basket shaped rounds.
The texture should be soft and creamy and even a little billowy. The stiffness should be like beaten egg whites. We actually like our chevre a little wetter than most cheesemakers prefer. We like to retain more moisture than the tubes of vacuumed sealed goat cheese you can buy at the grocery store. Ours does not crumble as well, but we really like to taste the milky component of the higher moisture. At the end of the goat cheese season (late November, early December), the chevre is a lot drier and almost a little grainy. This is completely normal and has to do with the higher solids in the milk at the end of the lactation cycle.
Wine Pairing Options:
The most classic wine pairing for Fresh Chevre is Sauvignon Blanc. It is important to not have an oaky or buttery white wine or a big, tannic red wine as both of these would really overwhelm the chevre and bring out unappealing flavors. I personally love a Sancerre with Fresh Chevre because of the delicate nature of both the cheese and wine. A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with grassy, citrusy, and tart flavors really help this cheese shine as well. Some other white wine options would be Pinot Grigio or a dry Chenin Blanc.
Food Pairing Options:
The Fresh Chevre has endless options. You can put it on pizza with roasted red peppers or use it in place or cream cheese for a cheesecake. It is great served with some sweet pepper jam and toast points or served along a pistachio crusted lamb loin. We like to drizzle it with honey and serve with some roasted pecans. Try it crumbled on a salad with roasted beets and a drizzle of good olive oil. It’s great for appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts. The sky is the limit for this versatile cheese.
The best way to store the Fresh Chevre is in its plastic container. We do not use any mold inhibitors or preservatives, so if you do not eat all of the cheese when you first open the container, take a little bit of plastic wrap and place on the surface of the cheese before you close the lid. It is important to not let any of the surface of the cheese be exposed to air. If you do not cover it, an off white mold may grow on the surface. If this happens, you can just scoop the beige mold and ½ in of the chevre off and continue to enjoy the rest of the cheese. This Fresh Chevre only has about a 2 week shelf life, so don’t ever buy more than you can eat in that time period.
It is noteworthy to mention that this is the only cheese that we make that can be frozen. The higher moisture content allows the chevre to be frozen and thawed without changing the texture. Most aged cheeses with become gritty or grainy when frozen and thawed.