Summer says cheese

The time to eat goats' cheese is now

Stubborn, temperamental and not easily trained: as a Capricorn, I ought to know a thing or two about goats. But I'm not a maker of goats' cheese, for whom this is a busy time of year.

Though goats' cheeses can be bought all year, the milk is highly seasonal. You can coax milk from a cow all year round; goats are trickier. This affects especially the type of small-production farmhouse cheeses you find at Neal's Yard Dairy.

The natural cycle of a goat goes like this: in autumn, as the evenings draw in, goats start feeding on more fibrous vegetation and produce less milk. They come on heat in September or October. Once they are "with kid", their milk begins to dry up, and towards the end of lactation its make-up changes: there is more fat and protein and less calcium salts, which makes cheese making difficult.

Kids are born between Christmas and April. The first milk is unsuitable for cheese making, but by April the goats are out grazing on pasture and production is running at full tilt.

Luc van Kampen, who makes Croghan, a soft, gouda style of cheese, and Mine Gabhar, a French-style lactic cheese, is a virtuoso cheese maker in County Wexford who adheres to this natural breeding rhythm. He does not produce goats' cheese during the winter: "It's expensive, it's heavy on the goats and it's totally against their nature," he says. For the van Kampens, the winter months are lean ones.

Robin Congden and Sarie Cooper, who make Harbourne Blue and Ticklemore, produce a small amount of cheese during the winter. They buy in milk from a farmer who keeps the goats in their family groups, which he believes makes a big difference to milk production. Sarie Cooper says, "It's difficult to produce cheese in the winter months; you need artificial lighting and feed."

Harbourne Blue, a Roquefort style of cheese, matures for three months: the cheese you buy in winter has been made with autumn milk, and from February to May the cheese is virtually unavailable. Ticklemore likewise: this light and delicate, semi-hard cheese sells after about two months' maturation.

So, for British and Irish farmhouse goats' cheeses, this is a season of plenty, and we should be enjoying them into the autumn. Interestingly, French goats' cheeses are sold at Jeroboams cheese shops all the year round - which is not to say that they aren't excellent, but it does mean that the goats are artificially fed and housed in winter.

Basically, goats' cheeses divide into blue, soft, hard, and in-between; semi-soft varieties. It is easy enough to spot a soft goats' cheese, but I am often fooled by the harder ones that bear no relation to the ubiquitous chevre logs. And while some are "goaty" and tart, others are milky and fragrant.

Poulcoin, for instance, is a hard cheese with a thin, natural rind and a smooth texture, not especially strong. Robin Congden's Ticklemore has a dry texture, a little crumbly, with a distinctive flavour. Mary Holbrook's Tilleys, which is semi-soft, with a texture similar to that of Durrus, is made with neither starter nor rennet, but - defying the normal procedure - with the stamens of the cardoon thistle, acquired from gypsies in northern Portugal.

Other soft goats' cheeses are more classical: Mary Holbrook's Tymsboro is ash-covered and soft around the edges like a French chevre, while Luc van Kampen's Mine Gabhar is a creamy, mould- ripened cheese with a blue bloom on the rind. The name means "tiny goat", after a local snipe whose tail feathers make the sound of a goat bleating far away.

These are just a few of the cheeses available. Anyone making goats' cheese likes a challenge, which means there are always new ones being created.

Filo tart of goats' cheese, spinach and pistachios, serves 4

This is similar to spanikopita, the Greek spinach pie, and is based on a tart I ate at Ransome's Dock. It was one of those extraordinarily hot summer days, and I found myself beside the Thames, under an umbrella, with a cold glass of wine.

One attraction of this tart is that it can be reheated, and, if you're entertaining alone, it makes for an easy life. Serve an interesting vegetable salad to start with.

175g/6oz unsalted butter, melted

700g/112 lb young spinach leaves

55g/2oz parsley leaves

sea salt, black pepper

200g/7oz filo pastry

85g/3oz shelled pistachio nuts, minced

275g/10oz soft goats' cheese (medium strength)

Clarify the butter by skimming the surface foam, decanting the clear yellow liquid and discarding the milk solids on the bottom. Wash the spinach in plenty of water, and shake it thoroughly dry. Heat a little clarified butter in a frying pan, add some of the spinach leaves and parsley, season, and cook, tossing them until they have wilted. Remove with any juices to a bowl and cook the remainder. You will need to do this in several batches, and should use up only about 25g/1oz of butter in the process. Drain all the cooked spinach into a sieve, pressing out as much of the juice as possible.

Brush a 30.5cm x 23cm/12in x 9in ovenproof dish with melted butter. Layer half the pastry on the base, painting each slice with melted butter, and scatter half the chopped nuts halfway through the pastry sheets. Arrange the spinach and goats' cheese on top and layer the remaining pastry on top of these, again painting each sheet with butter and scattering the pistachios halfway between the sheets.

Preheat the oven to 200C (fan oven)/210C (conventional electric oven)/410F/gas mark 6.5, and bake for 25-35 minutes. It needs to be quite a deep gold. Don't remove it when the pastry starts colouring on top; the bottom pastry may still be raw. You can cook this in advance and reheat if required.

Goats' cheeses are available from Neal's Yard Dairy,

17 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden, WC2 (mail order 0171-379 7646)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?