Although goat cheese –– also know as chévre –– has been made for thousands of years and was most likely one of the earliest dairy products, its popularity is only recently growing in the pizza industry. Here in the Western world, we have popularized cow’s milk, mass producing it and using it in a variety of ways, including the very item at which we all make a living.
Goat’s milk and goat cheese are preferred dairy products in much of the rest of the world. Because goat cheese is often made in areas where refrigeration is limited, aged goat cheeses are often heavily treated with salt to preserve them. As a result, salt has become associated with the flavor of goat cheese, especially in the case of the heavily brined feta.
In its simplest form, goat cheese is made by allowing raw milk to naturally curdle, and then draining and pressing the curds. Other techniques use an acid (such as vinegar or lemon juice) or rennet to coagulate the milk. Soft goat cheeses are made in kitchens all over the world, with cooks hanging bundles of cheesecloth filled with curds up in the warm kitchen for several days to drain and cure.
Goat cheese softens when exposed to heat, although it does not melt in the same way that many cow cheeses do.
Chévre has such a unique flavor profile and quality that it can enhance your menu if you really understand its characteristics and possibilities. Let me share four different ways that goat cheese can be incorporated into your menu:
? I’ve enjoyed a fried goat cheese salad at a popular Italian chain. Soft goat cheese is rolled in crushed hazelnuts and then quickly fried for a few seconds. If left frying too long it would simply fall apart. The fried cheese is then placed on greens with an array of accompaniments like artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and apples.
? Using little dollops of goat cheese on pizza is a great way to introduce chévre to your customers. Offer it on its own as a topping, or incorporate it with other toppings to create a special Mediterranean pizza.
? Try a pizza topped with roasted red peppers, Artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, roasted or sun-dried tomatoes, a drizzle of pesto and some dollops of soft goat cheese. You could sprinkle in some Feta cheese as well, but you don’t want to be too heavy-handed and give the pizza an overpowering flavor.
? Lastly, don’t discount the sandwich when it comes to goat cheese. Although you can’t really slice it like provolone, you can certainly use it as a spread. Now, here is where your creativity will come in handy. Of coarse you can spread it in its natural form, but why not incorporate some wonderful ingredients into the goat cheese just like you see bagel shops do with cream cheese? The possibilities are endless. But because goat cheese is a bit more costly than other cheeses we are using, I would suggest that you use it in a more upscale way on gourmet sandwiches instead of trying to incorporate it into a sub, for example.
Also, bear in mind that because of its intense flavor, you don‘t need to pile it on. Remember to spread it thin. I’ve even seen sweetened cranberries and walnuts mixed into a goat cheese. Something sweet like that may be a great accompaniment to a Turkey sandwich. Another option would be to chop up some roasted red peppers and garlic, then blend them with goat cheese for an eggplant sandwich on toasted ciabatta.
You may have seen my video demonstration at PizzaToday.com –– which is still available in the video archive section –– for making ricotta cheese gnocchi. You can follow the exact same recipe and procedures as in that video, but replace the regular ricotta with goat cheese ricotta. This will enhance the flavor profile as well as customer interest. If you can’t find goat cheese ricotta, then you may want to cut some regular soft goat cheese into the ricotta cheese gnocchi recipe. Once you see how easy these little gems are to make, I’m sure you’ll want to give it try.
Try it Out
I’ve given you a salad, pizza, spreads for sandwich and a gnocchi pasta idea. Try one or try them all. As you can see, there are so many different applications for this ancient cheese. If the four ideas I’ve shared aren’t quite enough, then here’s one more idea that is sure to delight the palate:
Take your pick of grilled or lightly breaded and fried eggplant planks. Lay them out and top them with some spinach leaves and roasted red peppers sautéed with a little garlic and a pinch of salt. Place a dollop of soft goat cheese in the center and roll them up. Two Rollatini in a casserole dish topped with a nice marinara and slice of fresh mozzarella on each roll makes a perfect appetizer. Serve it with a side of pasta for a fantastic lunch or dinner.
Jeffrey Freehof owns the Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, and is a frequent speaker at the Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.