It’s funny, because some people get the impression that I don’t like where I live. Which is kind of strange, because I don’t understand why anyone would think that I’d live somewhere where there was a dearth of clothes dryers if I didn’t like it. And if you saw the paperwork that I have to fill out just to stay here, well, let’s just say that one really has to want to live here to plow through it all.
I’ve read a lot of books extolling what a glorious place Paris is, with tales of skipping along Left Bank streets, happily shopping for new shoes whenever the mood strikes, and resting in one of those cafés on the boulevard St. Germain sipping a $7 coffee.
They certainly paint a rosy view of the city. But then I realized something: The authors of those books no longer live here.
Like all cities, Paris is a real place. A lot of people understandably come here looking for old bistros and quaint cafés, often to find those kinds of place disappearing, or disappointing. Then they’ll step into La Maison du Chocolate, take a bite of a Rigoletto Noir, filled with caramelized butter mousse, and realize that life doesn’t get any better than that.
Sometimes I’ll be riding my bike around at night by the Seine, under the softly-glowing lights. I’ll look around, and think, “Paris is breaktakingly beautiful.” Other times, I’ll scratch my head when the bank tells me they have no change that day. Or stare at the pile of paperwork that’s arrived in the mail, filled with endless forms that need to be filled out, and think, “Can someone remind me why I moved here?”
Anyhow, I still live here and accept that like anywhere, Paris is a real city with its flaws and its fabulousness.
And one of the most fabulous things about Paris are the fromageries. I love, love, love the cheese shops and my dream has always been to work in one. (Although after my experience working at the fish market, l might want to rethink that.)
Each time I visit a fromagerie, I see something new on the straw-lined shelf, and can’t help bringing home a wonderful specimen of cheese. Money or matière grasse (fat percentage) is no object.
There’s a new book out, Au Revoir to All That, about the decline of French cuisine. I haven’t read it, but I listened to an interview with the author who said that at this point, less than 10% of the cheeses in France were made from raw milk.
Considering a lot of people buy their cheese at the supermarket, where you can get decent cheese (along with the factory-produced stuff), I wouldn’t doubt it. Still, it’s not all that hard to find great raw-milk cheeses, like Brie de Meaux and Camembert du Normandie if you visit your local cheese shop.
Back in the states, you can also find great cheese, although it can take a bit more looking around. Happily, at most supermarkets you can find a very decent cheddar and goat cheese seems to be becoming more common in well-stocked grocers across the land.
One of my favorite ways to serve goat cheese is the way we did it back when I worked at Chez Panisse; marinated in olive oil, coated with good-quality bread crumbs, then baked in a toaster oven. We used Acme levain bread. If I’m by myself, I’ll often buy a small crottin de chèvre and toast that up for a nice lunch. “Crottin” means “crap” in French, and the rounded pellets of cheese are meant to resemble goat droppings. So while this may seem unappetizing you to, one taste of the semi-melted cheese will remove any connection to anything crappy. In fact, it’s pretty wonderful, like Paris so often is.
Baked Goat Cheese
This isn’t a strict recipe, but a technique, and can be made with any size goat cheese. It’s best to select one that’s fresh and soft, without a firm rind.
I use sourdough (levain) bread crumbs made from stale bread but you can certainly use what’s available where you are, as long as they’re from a sturdy loaf. If you buy breadcrumbs that are already toasted, simply mix them with the seasoning ingredients and skip the toasting in the oven. Some people use finely-chopped hazelnuts in place of some of the breadcrumbs.
Leftover breadcrumbs can be stored in the freezer, or strewn over whole-wheat pasta tossed with greens cooked with garlic and red chile flakes.
1. Cut you goat cheese into disks about 3/4-inch (2cm) thick. You can use anything from small crottins to a larger cheese, slicing it in half across the equator. Marinate the disks in olive oil, which can be done up to two days in advance. If done in advance, I like to add some herbs, such as fresh rosemary and thyme, as well as some black pepper, and let them rest in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 375F (180C).
2. Mix together fresh bread crumbs (for four servings, about 1/2 cup, 60g) with a generous pinch of sea salt, and just enough olive oil to moisten the crumbs, about 1 to 2 teaspoons.
3. Spread the crumbs on a baking sheet and cook the crumbs until golden brown and crispy, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring a few times during baking.
4. Once toasted, let cool and mix in 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon chopped parsley.
5. Brush the goat cheese rounds with olive oil. (Unless they’ve been marinated. In which case, pluck them from the oil and let the excess drip off briefly.)
6. Dredge the goat cheese in the toasted breadcrumb mixture until they’re completely coated and bake on a cookie sheet or in a gratin dish, either non-stick or lightly-greased, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until warmed through and soft when you press gently in the center.
7. Remove from over and use a spatula to lift the goat cheese rounds from the pan.
Serve with a green salad (dressed with hazelnut oil is great), and thin slices of toasted levain (sourdough) bread, a favorite crisp bread, or crackers. This also makes a great appetizer.
Where To Get Fresh Goat Cheese
In the United States, you can almost always find great goat cheese at your local farmer’s market, natural food stores, and at well-stocked supermarkets no matter where you live. Laura Chenel’s Taupinière is one that works very well, and Redwood Hill and Vermont Butter & Cheese are two producers who ship.
Other goat cheese producers in America include; Belle Chèvre (Alabama), Cypress Grove (Californian), Rollingstone Chèvre (Idaho), Capriole (Indiana), York Hill Farm (Massachusettes, Westfield Farm (Massachusettes), Dancing Wind Farms (Minnesota), Coach Farm (New York), and Northern Prarie (Texas).
Check websites for shipping information.
Two of my Favorite Guides to Cheese
Steve Jenkins Cheese Primer: A highly-opinionated guide by one of America’s best cheese experts. This encyclopedia covers cheeses from around the world.
French Cheeses: A terrific identification guide to a wide majority of the French cheeses, with outstanding photographs and descriptions.