Spring has sprung and flowers are blooming all around us. It’s also peak time for my favorite family of cheeses: soft-ripened goat’s milk cheeses, a seasonal specialty. Together, flowers and soft-ripened goat’s milk cheese make for a perfect spring delight—especially with a glass of rosé.
Even if you’re not familiar with the term “soft-ripened cheeses,” you’ve probably had them before, like brie and camembert. Basically, “soft-ripened” is a term curd nerds use for the type of rind formed from the bacteria called Penicillium cambemberti, or P. camemberti for short. This type of rind “blooms” when developing and gets pushed down, which forms a soft, bright white rind. These cheeses are young, from a few weeks to a little over a month old.
Since they ripen from the outside in, their paste can develop layers—and goat’s milk cheeses tend to have even more pronounced layers than other milks. The cakey inner paste crumbles, reminiscent of the fresh chèvre that people usually associate with goat cheese. Surrounding the inner paste, there is an ultra-creamy, luscious layer known as a “creamline”. The final outer layer is the rind—pillowy like freshly-fallen snow, mild, and yes, edible, with a slight mushroom funk.
Fresh, earthy, and luscious, soft-ripened goat’s milk cheeses highlight floral flavors beautifully. Steep dried petals to make a warming cup of tea, or nibble the tender buds right alongside a wedge. Follow these pointers to spring into this seasonal pairing.
When sourcing fresh flowers, I recommend either going to the farmers’ market and talking to local flower farmers or checking the produce section—not the flower section— of your local specialty grocery store. The fresh flowers I obtained were located near the fresh herbs.
I don’t recommend just going to the floral store or floral section because farmers often use toxic pesticides to keep critters away from their garden. Eating these pesticides can make you super sick. Once you’ve obtained fresh flowers, always wash them thoroughly, just in case, and gently pat dry.
Alternately, you can find dried flowers relatively easily. My favorite place to find dried flowers is in the tea section of international grocery stores. Usually, the full flower buds are dried to be used as tea, though they can also be paired as-is. Dried flowers have a much more intense, concentrated flavor than fresh flowers, so a little goes a long way when pairing with cheese.
Bucheron + Snapdragons
Bucheron de Chevre is a French cheese whose layers are super distinct. The creamline oozes, and the rind just barely falls away from the other layers. This one is creamy and has a light and bright flavor. Bucheron’s creaminess begs for something with a little snap to it, which is where fresh snapdragons come in. Snapdragons have a slight acidic bite when you chew on the petals, and that shines through the richness of Bucheron. For an added touch of sweetness, drizzle a little local honey on top as well.
Leonora + Rose
Leonora is creamy like Bucheron, but it has a strong lemony sourness that sings in pairings. It tastes like what I imagine spring sunshine tastes like: light, citrusy, with a small bite, like the lingering chill that holds onto spring mornings. With its acidic bite, Leonora needs a stronger flavor to hold up to it.
When shopping in the international store, I came across dried rosebuds for tea and I picked them up, even though I was a bit skeptical; rose is a difficult flavor to pull off well without tasting like Grandma’s perfume. It tastes much like it smells, so a little goes a long way. Tasting them dried was too intense, but when steeped for tea, the flavor lightens up into a hint of perfumed sweetness that balances out Leonora’s lemony flavors. It tastes bright with just a hint of floral and no sting of acid on the tongue, like the first day of spring when you’re able to go outside without a coat on.
Caña de Cabra + Chrysanthemum
This Spanish goat cheese is firmer and crumblier than the others and has a lovely tart bite to it. Caña de Cabra finds itself best at home with some dried chrysanthemums, steeped for tea. Alone, dried chrysanthemums had too intense of a flavor, but the tea is light, warm, and refreshing. When sipped with Caña de Cabra, the cheese’s flavor opens up and balances the cheese’s sweet tartness. The flavor of the Caña de Cabra blooms with the warmth of the tea.
All in all, I recommend playing around with flowers, either dried or fresh, on your next cheese board. Try these recommendations—and then experiment. I’ve also always been a fan of dried lavender on top of fresh chèvre, with or without honey!