I love having the gift of being able to sense the new goodies at the farmer’s market here in Athens. I really do. It is almost a sixth sense–an ability to ferret out the newest local foods that our farmers and food producers have brought to market, so that I can bring them home to my family and friends.
When I was at the market last Saturday, I found something truly spectacular.
Freshly made local goat cheese.
Oh, raptures and joy! I was wandering along and saw something that looked rather like a small flattened ball of chevre off out of the corner of my eye, and like a hound on the scent, I veered off to the left and found myself at the table of Chris Chmiel, founder of Integration Acres, the largest commercial producer of pawpaw products in the world. (Okay, I will talk about the pawpaw thing in a later post. I promise. Right now, however, I want to talk about cheese, so be patient. I will get around to it.)
Chmiel uses goats to help tend his forest pawpaw patches. The pawpaw trees are not eaten by the browsing goats because their leaves and bark contain a chemical which makes it unpalatable to any grazing animal; thus, the goats eat the underbrush and other small trees and shrubs which compete for nutrients and water with the pawpaw trees without harming the trees themselves. In return, the goats give fresh milk which Chmiel has just started turning into fresh farmstead cheese this summer.
In fact, he told me when I popped up in front of his table with a hungry grin, asking rather cheerily, “Is that really fresh, local chevre?” that it not only was what I thought it was, it was the first day he had sold it to the public.
I was suddenly very happy to be part of the public.
Before he could even give me a free sample, I had already told him I wanted to buy some. I could smell it, and it smelled briny and sweet and tangy and wonderful from where I stood. I couldn’t want to combine it with some of my anise-scented basil and ripe tomatoes to make–oh, I didn’t really care what I made out of it, so long as it was good.
As Chmiel said, this is probably the freshest cheese I have ever tasted, outside of the paneer I have made myself in the past. But even so, his milk probably started out fresher, so I think his chevre still beats out my paneer for freshness.
It is certainly fresh, and delicious–as good, or better–than it smells. It is tangy, salty, sweet and milky, all at once. It is rich, too–with a full, creamy texture and a fluffy mouthfeel. Some chevre can be chalky and heavy, but not his. It is amazingly good–the best chevre I have ever eaten, bar none. And I don’t say that lightly, as I adore chevre, and have eaten a lot of it, from all over the place, for years.
What have I done with it so far?
Well, I have further plans for it, but for the moment, I have kept it simple. I spread some on thin slices of flaxen whole wheat bread from the Village Bakery down the hill from our house, then sprinkled it with minced basil and topped it with paper-thin slices of ripe tomato. That was a wonderful little meal yesterday for Morganna, Kat and I.
And this morning, I made a thoroughly local breakfast out of Bridlewood Acres pastured eggs scrambled with my own minced chives, parsley and basil, with sliced ripe tomatoes from Shade River Farm and Integration Acres chevre folded in. I didn’t even need to add salt it was all so good. With a bit of toasted flaxen bread with local butter on it, and some good coffee, I was in heaven.
And so was Kat. She could eat me out of house and home on goat cheese, basil, bread and tomatoes. I left out the eggs for her, though, because I want to keep her away from egg whites until she is a year old.
But after that–well, we’ll see what she thinks of Mamma’s Tomato-Chevre Basil Scramble then.
(Okay, I am not posting a real recipe here. I figure you all know how to scramble eggs, so follow your usual procedures, but use less milk or cream than usual, and beat in a handful of minced herbs. Then cook your pastured, super-fresh eggs in a bit of melted local butter, and when they are nearly done, fold in however much chopped tomatoes and crumbled goat cheese you want. When the tomatoes wilt a bit and the goat cheese melts and the eggs are done to your liking, scoop everything out of the pan into your bowl or plate and eat. And smile, because your tongue and tummy will be happy. I promise.)
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