Food & Drink: Flocks develop the herd instinct: With a wealth of goats' cheeses at her French holiday home, our cookery writer decided to make the most of them
Even the hypermarche in our little shopping town offers a range of 20 or so goat's cheeses, though only half a dozen are made in the region. At the twice-weekly market, on the other hand, nearly all the goat's cheeses will have been made within a radius of 50 or 60 miles.
On a good week, you may find four or five makeshift stalls with the produce of nearby farms: cream and butter from the cows, cheese from the goats, and the odd free-range chicken or rabbit.
The one certainty is the magnificent large-scale cheese stall that has been run by the same couple since time immemorial. There is a wealth of all kinds of cheeses to choose from. One end is dedicated to a virtuoso display of goat's cheeses. They come in all shapes and sizes; long cylinders wrapped round straws, pyramids, hearts, rounds of many diameters. Each cheese will be represented in differing stages of maturity.
Farmers and cheesemongers will also sell chevre frais en faisselle, the tender fresh curds of new cheese, barely drained (you may be offered a choice of yesterday's or today's curds) in their perforated moulds. The faisselles are made of plastic these days, though it is easy to find the pretty old earthenware moulds in junk shops.
Usually, the cheese is decanted from its faisselle into a plastic bag for the journey home. Inevitably, it loses its shape as it is squashed by the rest of the shopping, but no one cares much. It will soon be eaten, perhaps as part of a simple dessert with a sprinkling of sugar, a dollop of jam or some fruit compote. It is more likely to turn up as fromage frais a l'ail (sometimes, I think, also known as fromage Tourangelle, though no one round here would dream of calling it that). This is the young curds mixed with crushed garlic and lots of fresh herbs. Sometimes it is served as a first course, sometimes after the salad instead of a firmer cheese.
Though you may not be able to pick and choose your fresh curds in Britain in quite the way you can here, supermarkets and delicatessens are increasingly stocking commercially made young mild goat's cheese, semi-drained and as moist as - no, moister than - most cream cheese. All the recipes that follow have been tested with this sort of cheese, as well as French chevre frais. If no young goat's cheese is available, try ordinary fromage frais, drained first in a muslin-lined sieve for a few hours to remove more of the whey. The results will be a little different, but still good.
Quiche au fromage
This rich and luxurious quiche is based on the herbed young cheese that is so often eaten here. I have played down the garlic a little, but there are still plenty of herbs
Ingredients: 12oz (340g) shortcrust or flaky pastry
For the filling: 10oz (285g) young goat's cheese
4tbs creme fraiche or double cream with a squeeze of lemon juice
1 clove of garlic, crushed
5 spring onions, finely chopped
2tbs chopped chives
2tbs chopped parsley
1tbs chopped marjoram
1 whole egg
3 egg yolks
3tbs grated gruyere
salt and pepper
Preparation: Line a tart tin 8in (20cm) in diameter and 1 1/2 in (4cm) deep with the pastry, prick the base with a fork and chill for half an hour. Line with greaseproof paper or silver foil, weigh down with baking beans and bake blind at 200C/400F/gas 6 for 10 minutes. Remove beans and lining and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes to dry out. Cool slightly and reduce the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.
Beat the goat's cheese with the creme fraiche, egg and egg yolks. Stir in the garlic, spring onions, herbs, salt and pepper. Spoon into the pastry case. Sprinkle over the gruyere. Bake for about 40 minutes until just set. Serve warm or cold.
Omelette au broccio
Broccio is actually a sheep's cheese from Corsica, but in A Table in Provence Leslie Forbes suggests making this omelette with young goat's cheese instead; and however it compares with the original, it certainly tastes good. This is a sweet omelette, flavoured with mint as well as the cheese: unusual, but extremely effective. If, however, that seems too odd, you would still end up with a pretty nifty omelette if you replaced the sugar with salt and pepper.
Ingredients: 3 large eggs
2tsp castor sugar
1/2 oz (15g) unsalted butter
3 large mint leaves, shredded
3 generous tbs young goat's cheese
1tbs creme fraiche or double cream
extra mint leaves and sugar to finish
Preparation: Beat the eggs lightly with the sugar. Melt the butter in a 10in (25cm) omelette pan. Raise the heat and add the mint. When the bubbles start to subside, add the eggs. Immediately spoon over the cheese and cream. Tip the pan back and forth a few times, lifting the edges of the omelette with a spatula to let the liquid egg run underneath.
As soon as the omelette is set, but still creamy on top, fold it in three lengthwise and slide on to a plate. Sprinkle with a little extra sugar and perch a couple of fresh mint leaves on top.
From the south-west of France comes this superbly boozy 'cream' to serve with summer fruits, or maybe just on its own in small bowls, with crisp almondy biscuits to dip into it.
Ingredients: 2oz (55g) castor sugar
3fl oz (85 ml) armagnac or brandy
10oz (285g) fresh young goat's cheese
Preparation: Beat first the sugar and then the armagnac into the cheese. Chill for at least an hour before serving and beat once more before you put it on the table.
Raspberry amaretti fool
This is one of the most delicious fools I have tasted in a long time, with the goat's cheese adding a subtle flavour that works particularly well with raspberries.
Ingredients: 8oz (225g) raspberries
2oz (55g) castor sugar
8oz (225g) fresh young goat's cheese
3fl oz (85 ml) whipping cream, whipped
4 amaretti biscuits, roughly crumbled
Preparation: Crush the raspberries roughly with a fork. Mix with the sugar and goat's cheese, then fold in the cream. Chill for a good hour before serving. Just before serving, so that they do not lose their crunch, fold in the amaretti.
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