Planet Cheese is a weekly blog devoted to everything cheese: products, people, places, news, and views. James Beard Award–winning journalist Janet Fletcher writes Planet Cheese from her home in Napa Valley. Janet is the author of Cheese & Wine, Cheese & Beer, and The Cheese Course and an occasional contributor to culture. Visit janetfletcher.com to sign up for Planet Cheese and view Janet’s current schedule of cheese appreciation classes.
Because we can always grab a quart of milk at the store, most of us don’t think of milk as seasonal. But cheesemakers do, especially if they work with goats or sheep. A dairy goat’s output dips and rises as the seasons change. Milk quality goes up and down. In summer, goats are generous but the milk is lean. In winter, supply plunges as farmers let pregnant goats go dry. For flavor and selection, spring is prime time. To experience the year’s finest fresh goat cheeses, leap now.
Foraging at Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco recently, I spotted Délice des Deux-Sèvres (above), a charcoal-gray oval with a tell-tale slump. When you see a soft-ripened cheese start to slouch, you know it has developed an oozy zone—the so-called “cream line”—just under the rind. Even wrapped in cellophane and tucked in a paper bag, the cheese perfumed my car with its mushroom scent on the way home.
What a head-turner on a cheese tray. Logs, disks and cylinders of ashed goat cheese—everybody makes those. But this elegant inch-thick oval, weighing about five ounces, is all but unique. (Caprice des Dieux has the same shape, but it’s from cow’s milk and made industrially.) It took me a while to realize, but Délice is clearly the same cheese as Ovalié Cendrée, the name that affineur (cheese ager) Hervé Mons uses for the Délice he buys young, ripens and sends to the U.S.
Although in flavor and recipe it resembles some of the classic Loire Valley goat cheeses, Délice comes from the Deux-Sèvres, southwest of the Loire Valley. The family-run creamery makes goat cheese exclusively, including the fabulous leaf-wrapped Mothais-sur-Feuille. Soft-ripened goat cheeses made with pasteurized milk (as both of those are) rarely have such inviting aroma and texture. And fresh spring grass has little to do with it. Goats eat grass only after they’ve demolished the weeds and brush. They don’t like to put their heads down.
A perfectly ripe Délice will have a thin, tender rind with no hint of ammonia. The aroma is pure mushroom, not goaty at all; the flavor mellow and perfectly salted. The texture is light on the tongue, not stodgy or chalky. Add a baguette or walnut bread and pour a Sancerre or Saumur.
In Northern California, look for Délice des Deux-Sèvres at Falletti Foods and both Bi-Rite Markets (San Francisco); Market Hall Foods (Oakland); Draeger’s (multiple locations) and Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. Ovalié Cendrée turns up regularly at Whole Foods and at Cheese Plus in San Francisco.