Cheese Ball Week continues here on C+C. For today’s ball, I wanted to create one that could pull double duty as an appetizer or in a dessert line up. I started with the fresh, floral Purple Haze chevre from Cypress Grove, laced with lavender and fennel pollen. Instead of the usual cream cheese, I used ricotta as the mixer, and then added a hint of cocoa powder. My “ball” was a late addition to my Friday night dinner menu and didn’t chill as long as it should have, resulting in more of a blob-like appearance. But it still tasted delicious! And went nicely with the champagne we opened for dinner. Should you find yourself with leftovers, it makes a delicious spread for toast, too.

Cocoa-Lavender Cheese Ball

Ingredients:
1 4-ounce package of Cypress Grove Purple Haze
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon cocoa powder, plus additional tablespoon

Instructions: In a mini food processor or mixing bowl, combine the Purple Haze and ricotta cheeses until smooth. Add 1 teaspoon cocoa powder and mix until combined. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon cocoa powder on small plate. Form the cheese mixture into a bowl and gently roll to coat in the cocoa powder. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Enjoy!

Though it’s still Chanukah and I have some of my potato chip-crusted cheese ball in the refrigerator, today our thoughts turn to Christmas. That’s a slightly weird thing to type, as I’m Jewish, but when I put together today’s featured cheese ball, I couldn’t help but notice the red-and-green color palette. But regardless of what you celebrate this month, you’ll want to make room for this appetizer.

Colleen and I have made no secret of our love for goat cheese on C+C, and I thought a fresh chevre would lighten up the typical (and heavy) cream-cheese mixture and add an unexpected tang to the cheese ball. To equal portions of goat cheese and cream cheese I added a handful of chopped fresh basil and then topped the ball with yellow tomato-onion jam I made this summer. The freshness of the basil matched perfectly with the almost lemony light flavor of the goat cheese, and the tomato jam rounds out each bite with a rich, brown sugar-infused sweetness. If you don’t have any homemade jam handy – and let’s face it, most people don’t – find the best tomato chutney available as a substitute. And next summer, make the jam.

Tomato, Basil and Goat Cheese Ball

Unlike yesterday’s cheese ball, which required several hours of refrigeration to help it keep its shape, this recipe can be prepared just minutes before serving. The extra-soft texture makes it easy to spread on hearty whole wheat crackers (Carr’s brand is our favorite).

4 oz. soft goat cheese (chevre)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup finely chopped basil
½ cup tomato jam or chutney

Place goat cheese and cream cheese in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly with a spatula. Toss in chopped basil and mix until evenly distributed throughout the cheese. Mold the mixture into a ball with your hands and place onto a serving platter. Spoon the tomato jam on the top and sides of the ball. Dig in!

Last week, the Martha Stewart show aired an episode focused entirely on cheese — cheese from Vermont, to be precise. Emeril has been to Vermont recently as well. We’re tickled to see the celebrities discover what we discovered ages ago (you know, way back in August) … namely, that Vermont makes some damn good cheese. So much so that I wore myself out recapping my Vermont road trip and never got around to posting the final installment of my travelogue, our visit to Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield.

I discovered Fat Toad at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival; their rich and creamy goats-milk caramel sauces, made in the tradition of Mexican cajeta, provided one of the sweeter complements to the many samples of cheese on display. Their fresh chevre was refreshingly pure and tangy. As I chatted with Fat Toad’s Josey Hastings, she mentioned that they were located not far off of I-89, our planned route back south to New York. Because of our rush to get to the festival on Sunday (after driving from Virginia to Albany, via Queens, on Saturday) we hadn’t built in much time to visit any farms but hoped to at least stop by one before leaving the state.

Judith Irving and her goat greeters

The next day, we decided to spend some time enjoying Lake Champlain and got a later start back on the road than anticipated. I called the farm and was cautioned that they were beginning evening chores, but would try to give us a quick tour. As we navigated the country roads to the farm, we passed rolling hillside meadows full of dairy cows, including those of Neighborly Farms. It was the sunniest day yet of our road trip and a perfect day to take in the Vermont countryside. When we arrived, Josey had extracted herself from putting up zucchini and graciously gave us the full tour. The quaint farm didn’t take long to navigate, as they are a small, family-run operation with about 40 Alpine and Saanen dairy goats. It was milking time, so we missed out on seeing the goats frolicking in the meadows but got to visit with them as they awaited their turn in the milking chamber.

kissing goats @ Fat Toad Farm

Josey and her family produce most of their own food on their property, including a few pigs (who are fed excess whey, naturally) and fresh produce. The maple for their maple chevre comes from a neighbor. They’ve been making cheese commercially for only about two years, and have clearly developed a winning formula for high quality fresh chevre. The mild cheese can be used as a dip or spread (try on bagels in place of cream cheese), or in recipes like their Fat Toaders’ Caramel Goat Cheese Swirl Brownies.

The caramel sauces come in several flavors, coffee bean, cinnamon, vanilla bean, and original — and if you’re like me and can’t pick just one, you can order a gift box of all four. I bought several for holiday gifts and already gave one away to our hosts in New York; the jury is still out on whether the others will actually be gifted or remain tucked away in my pantry. (Perhaps I’d better order another set to be safe.)

the self-serve farm store

Incidentally, my new secret to the best BLT sandwich you will ever have? A generous schmear of Fat Toad Farm maple chevre in place of mayonnaise.  Pure bliss.

Thank you to Josey and family for allowing us to poke around the farm. We hope to make it back again soon!

Fat Toad Farm
787 Kibbee Rd
Brookfield, VT
802.279.0098 — call now for holiday orders
www.fattoadfarm.com

Save the Date: The 2010 Vermont Cheesemakers Festival will be held in July, Sunday the 25th, back at Shelburne Farms.

Before we get any further into fall (it’s October already?!) I need to fill you in on one last fresh goat cheese, the Coach Farm Medallion. I didn’t think this cheese would be hard to find when I first saw it on the list, as my local cheese shop carries several Coach products, but they never seemed to have the Medallion, a small 4-ounce knob of creamy chevre. Coach Farm‘s goat cheeses were one of the first artisanal cheeses I can recall tasting, years ago on my first pilgrimage to the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. My travel companion and I were smitten and brought back a jar of marinated goat buttons which I ate as slowly as possible to stretch out the supply.

Coach Farm is located in New York’s Hudson Valley, about two hours north of the city. Their French Alpine dairy goats graze on fresh alfalfa hay grown on the farm, plus a daily supplement of soybeans, oats and corn. Coach uses vegetable rennet, making their cheeses vegetarian-friendly. The milking parlor connects directly to the creamery, where they ladle the curds by hand, turning out consistently rich, smooth cheeses. This particular medallion was crisp, creamy and fresh tasting, silky in texture and flavor. (Is silky a flavor? It is now.)

Yes, if you’re wondering, the Coach is that Coach, of handbag fame. The founders, Miles and Lillian Cahn, retired from the fashion business and moved upstate to enjoy a quiet country life with 1,000 goats. Their hobby quickly took off and their goat cheeses have been featured in some of New York’s top restaurants — including those of Mario Batali, who is married to the Cahn’s daughter. Today, you can also find Coach’s fresh and aged goats-milk cheeses, and their delicious drinkable “Yo-Goat,” at fine cheese shops across the country. I picked up the Medallion at Marlow & Daughters, an adorable little gourmet market in Brooklyn, on our last visit to New York. We enjoyed it with a few other regional cheeses and Brooklyn-made goodies from the Bedford Cheese Shop …. more on that soon!

(Can you guess the other two cheeses on the plate? Hint: they’re from states on the I-91 corridor.)

Colleen and I ate a lot of goat’s-milk cheese while we were in New York, and one of our favorites was Chabichou du Poitou. We picked it up at Murray’s and enjoyed it in the nearby park where we staged our outdoor cheese photo shoot. Remember, this was Pride weekend, so a cheese photo shoot was likely the least unusual sighting in New York that day.

A relatively young cheese (aged six weeks), Chabichou must be made from pasteurized milk to be imported to the United States, and I can’t say the pasteurization detracted from its taste. Though it had the typically goaty smell, the paste wasn’t too goaty. Instead, it was firm and chalky with notes of flowers and grass. Chabichou is AOC-protected, which guarantees that the cheese you by with this name will have come from the Poitou region of France. It’s a good cheese to seek out if you don’t think you like goat cheese – its clean flavor may convert you!

Of course, wines from nearby Loire Valley would make an excellent match for Chabichou. Artisanal recommends Pouilly-Fume, Sancerre, Muscadet and Sauvignon Blanc. The more the cheese matures, however, the more likely it would pair well with a red wine.

Though I had already bought a cheese from the Wine Spectator list for this week, I was fully on board with Colleen’s idea to take a furlough from said list and sample some local goat’s-milk cheeses instead. This week not withstanding (we had a record three days in a row when the temperature didn’t get above 60°), we’ve also been blessed with spring-like weather here in Minnesota, which turns the taste buds toward young, fresh cheeses. I found two delicious specimens at Surdyk’s that are definitely worth a try.

I hadn’t heard of Donnay Dairy before, but this farmstead operation in Kimball, Minn., produces two certified-organic goat cheeses: fresh chevre and the cave-aged Granite Ridge. The family-run farm began making goat cheese in 2004, and it quickly grew in popularity throughout Minnesota. I brought home a tub of the chevre and marveled at its clean, pure taste.

My second cheese hails from my homestate of Wisconsin, and while it’s not as young as the Donnay Dairy chevre, its uniqueness merited a place on my cheese plate. Carr Valley, maker of the previously review Marisa, has created a goat’s-milk blue cheese called Billy Blue. It’s made from the milk of pasture-raised goats and aged for four months, so it still retains the freshness of a chevre while providing the salty tang of a blue cheese. A great blue cheese for beginners, the Billy Blue will definitely see the inside of my cheese drawer again.

But what’s the best pairing for a blue goat cheese? Carr Valley suggests a Sauternes, Port or cider, none of which I had on hand during my tasting. Since I have a little cheese left, though, I might have to do some experimentation over the weekend. That’s homework I won’t mind at all!

Selles-sur-Cher is a sweet little button of goat cheese made in the heart of France’s Loire Valley. Named for the town from which it originated, this plucky cheese actually bigger than a button (it’s about 3 in. across), but its petite flavor gives it a smaller footprint on your tastebuds.

The blueish exterior of Sulles-sur-Cher may turn off French chèvre novices, but rest assured that it’s just a coating of vegetable ash, a common feature among Loire Valley goat’s-milk cheeses. The rind is edible, unless the cheese is aged considerably, but my portion was perfectly young and fresh. I enjoyed the clean, almost floral taste of Selles-sur-Cher – during a week when the snow is melting and the temperature starts to rise, it seemed to be the ideal cheese for welcoming spring. (Watch, I just jinxed Minnesota – we’ll have a blizzard next week.) You’ll only find pasteurized versions of Selles-sur-Cher in the United States, but my cheesemonger Benjamin at the Cheese Shop at France 44 assured me that it’s still quite tasty. Until I make it back to France, I’ll have to take his word for it.

Steven Jenkins recommends serving Selles-sur-Cher with sweet fruits, such as citrus and melon. I sampled mine with some canteloupe and found the pairing to be pleasant, though I also liked just slicing off small wedges while standing at the counter. He suggests a white Sancerre for a wine, while Artisanal Cheese recommends Sauvignon Blanc. I could even see a match with a sweeter white, like Muscat, but I haven’t tested that theory yet. Experiment on your own and let us know!