Goat cheese, also known as chèvre, is a special kind of cheese. It is funky, tangy, and creamy, so definitely an acquired taste, but once you get comfortable with it, you open yourself up to a world of opportunity. And goat cheese doesn't only exist in the log form you typically find in grocery stores. It comes in a variety of hard and soft cheeses, both fresh/unripened and aged, and in styles such as cheddar or brie. So you can start of slow with something a little more familiar, get comfortable with the taste, and then branch out to the more strongly flavored-options. And here is a huge benefit of goat cheese - it is healthier than most other cheeses due to its lower saturated fat, cholesterol, lactose, and sodium, higher calcium content, easy to digest fats, and abundance of vitamins and minerals. Therefore, you can still treat yourself while taking care of your body!
When working with goat cheese, its flavor will almost always be featured, even if not intended, because it is so intense. That does not mean that it does not compliment other ingredients well. It is almost better paired with something else because those other items will take away some of the acidity and punch and make for a more well-rounded bite. The first time I tried labneh, which is made from strained Greek yogurt with a similar flavor profile to goat cheese, I had it with oil and dried herbs - the savory, earthy flavors from the basil and oregano and the sweetness and nuttiness from the oil created such a smooth and captivating bite. I knew I had to try this combination with the chèvre. Turns out, I love to roll my goat cheese in a mix of dried herbs including oregano, mint, chervil, dill, sage, or basil, adding a little texture to the experience too.
Ironically, goat cheese also pairs very nicely with tart ingredients, even though it is so tart itself. Mixed with lemon, lime, cherries, or cranberries, its creaminess envelops the citrus and acidic notes and blends it with its own tang to produce a mild sharpness with more complexity. Even with sweeter fruits and vegetables such as apples, pears, or beets, it embraces and elevates their standout notes, giving a supple platform that absorbs the juices as these crunchy ingredients burst, all while maintaining the clean integrity of their flavor.
My family eats A LOT of chèvre, and with plenty of it around at all times, I am always looking to alter the ways it can contribute to a dish. A few months back, I made a Mediterranean-themed dinner, and for dessert, I wanted to work with lemon, lavender, and chèvre. With a more savory dessert in mind, I knew that these ingredients would carry out my vision well.
I ended up making a lemon and lavender tart with a fennel-honey compote and goat cheese cream, clean and simple so the flavors would not get muddled. Wanting to keep it on the healthier side, I used almonds, hazelnuts, and almond butter for the crust and date sugar in the lemon curd. While it does not set the same way as a curd with conventional sugar due to its different properties, the date sugar eliminated that cloying sweetness that is often associated with lemon curd and balanced it out in a much subtler manner. The fennel-honey compote was exactly that - fennel sliced small, cooked in a little water and buckwheat honey to soften it and bring out its grassy notes, tying it back to the goat cheese, which has similar earthy tones. A compote can be made with sweet vegetables such as beets, carrots, or even celery (though it may not be traditional), along with any fruit that you desire (which is the usual choice). Change up the sweetness with different types of sugar and honey as well - each will bring out something different in the main ingredient.
With this thought in mind, I added some of the buckwheat honey to the chèvre, drawing attention to its underlying flavor and sweetening it just a bit so the lemon's acidity would be at the forefront. After letting it sit out and soften so I could fully incorporate the honey, I then whipped it with a whisk till it was smooth and light as air. Basically, I made a two ingredient ice cream! Okay, I know, it is not an ice cream, but it is just as rich and decadent and takes a lemon tart to a completely new place. Serving it cold allowed the goat cheese to hold its shape on the plate, but as soon as it hit the tongue, it presented an instant cooling sensation just before melting in my mouth. Mixed with the crust, compote, and lemon curd, the taste combination was elegant, mysterious, and familiar all at once. Finished off with a faint sense of the lavender, I felt like I was in the French countryside, peacefully enjoying the wealth of the region, even in such a small portion.
As seen above, I love to include goat cheese in the form of a sauce. Its velvety mouthfeel makes any dish classier and more indulgent, as was demonstrated by my recent foray with spaghetti squash. Initially I planned on making a caramelized onion and sunflower seed gravy, but after chatting with my mom about how nice it is to have some texture within a pasta dish, I decided not to blend those ingredients and see what other options I had. I had just pickled some cherries in sherry vinegar to emphasize its tartness and realized I had no use for the pickling liquid but did not want to waste it. Perfect! I would use it to thin out the chèvre so that it could serve as a sauce. The pink hue from the cherry juice was a lovely advantage, and the flavor was both bright and memorable with the amplified acidity. This is a smart way to extend the use of products with liquids - sauerkraut, kimchi, olives, capers, or any other pickles; mix in the actual ingredients too for that additional pop of flavor and texture. I finished off the dish with some roasted radishes and oregano to compliment the sweet earthiness of the squash and the cheese.
Although the dish may look well put together now, I do want to share this wonderful fail photo that happened as I was cooking the squash. I was sitting in the kitchen and heard a loud bang, only to discover that my squash had in fact exploded in the oven, and the pressure was so high that it actually pushed the oven door open so that strings could fly out. I probably should have kept a better eye on it, poked some holes, and/or cooked it at a lower temperature, but I fortunately did not lose all of it. And while it was not a fun process to clean, it did provide me with this entertaining story and reminder that even if accidents happen in the kitchen, there can always be an upside to them.
Cooking with goat cheese can literally be a blast. It is a stellar ingredient on its own, but it also stuns as a base for vitalizing dishes both savory and sweet. Maybe goat actually stands for greatest of all time? You might just need to taste and experiment with it to realize that.