Goats(’-milk cheese) go(es) to heaven

Cheese is a food made by coagulating milk curds with rennet (a preparation made from the inner membrane of a calf’s stomach), separating the curds from the whey, and pressing the curds into a solid mass. Everyone likes cheese.

Goats’-milk cheese is the same thing made with goats’ milk, which has less fat and sugar than cows’ milk. Goats’-milk cheese has a more delicate texture and distinct flavor than cows’-milk cheese. Almost everyone likes goats’-milk cheese, especially those who don’t realize it’s made from fluids that were once inside goats.

Baked goats’-milk cheese is delicious. From what I gather, it’s a dish commonly eaten in France (or in parts of California, where they pretend they’re eating in France), but no one I know has actually ever had it in France (or California, for that matter). The best way to eat it is plopped on top of a light salad, but it’s also good plopped on top of a big slab of bread, and I bet it’s still good plopped on top of a tart crust, with herbs. Just so long as you plop, everyone will like the results.

Meat-based vinaigrette is what makes baked goats’-milk cheeses extraordinary. No one thinks to put meat in their vinaigrette (except the French, I hear), but that’s only because no one spends enough time thinking about vinaigrette. Preparing vinaigrette with vegetables and chicken broth gives it a richness and complexity of flavor that mustard and balsamic vinegar can’t match. I can’t imagine someone not liking baked goats’-milk cheese with chicken-broth vinaigrette, but that’s mostly because I can’t imagine someone taking the time to speak while they’re eating it. Cook it, and you’ll learn why.

Baked goats’-milk cheeses with chicken-broth vinaigrette

Active time: 30 minutes. Actual time: 1 hour. Serves 6.

Ingredients:

1 10.5 oz log of fresh goats’-milk chevre cheese

1 small onion, chopped fine

1 rib celery, chopped fine

1 carrot, peeled and chopped fine

1 clove garlic, peeled and cut in half

2 sprigs thyme

1 bay leaf

2 tbsp parsley

2 tbsp butter

4 tbsp olive oil

1/3 cup white wine

1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Salt

Freshly-ground black pepper

Process:

(1) Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over low-to-medium heat, and add onion, celery, carrot, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add parsley, stir for 1 more minute, and then add wine and stir for 30 seconds, scraping any stuck bits from pan. Add chicken broth, bring to a simmer and let simmer 15 minutes.

(2) Preheat broiler on oven. Remove log of cheese from package, and slice cheese into 6 half-inch rounds, being careful to keep them intact. Spread 1 tbsp oil over a pyrex (or metal) baking pan and space rounds evenly in pan, giving them ample room.

(3) When broth is ready, remove it from heat and strain it through a fine-mesh sieve or strainer, pressing the vegetables with the back of a spoon to extract their juices. Add lemon juice, oil, and additional salt and pepper (to taste) to broth, to make vinaigrette.

(4) Spoon 1 tsp vinaigrette over each cheese round. Grind pepper over each, too. Then put baking pan in broiler, wait 5 minutes, remove pan and spoon another tsp of vinaigrette over each round, and put back in broiler for an additional 5 minutes. Cheeses are done when they begin to melt slightly and their tops are golden-brown. When they’re ready, remove pan from broiler and allow cheeses to cool 5 minutes. Serve over mesclun greens, using the leftover vinaigrette as dressing. Enjoy.

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