The first time I tried goat cheese, I was a young professional working in South Denver. I had never really been invited to a “co-worker” lunch before, and I was very excited when my supervisor asked our group out to lunch. I remember, as I recall so many of my first experiences with food, the event clearly. So clearly, in fact, that many times I can conjure up the tastes from those experiences, which I could later replicate. This is one of those times. The place was Cucina Leone, a subtle, lovely restaurant I found out later has the best soup in the entire world when you’re sick. On the specials menu for lunch, there was a wilted salad.

“It’s a warm salad,” one of my co-workers explained. On it, it had roasted red peppers, spinach, caramelized onions, and something called chevre.

“What’s this chev–rrree?” I asked.

“CHEV-re. Goat cheese,” my supervisor declared.

“Ah,” I said suspiciously. “What’s cheese normally made from?” Yes, this was before cooking school and after graduate school. The only thing I knew was there was some difference between cheddar and mozzarella.

They laughed (you would have, too). They explained cheese can be made from all kinds of milk, but mainly cows and goats. Man, I felt stupid, but I ordered the salad, anyway. It was, by far, the most amazing salad I have ever had. The cheese was perfectly white and creamy, and melded well with the vinaigrette. Slightly softened by the warmth of the salad, the caramelized onions and red peppers heightening its sweetness, I was converted immediately.

I spent a few years afterwards trying different cheeses made from goat’s milk from different countries. My favorites were always from the United States. To this day, my favorite goat cheese is from Cypress Grove in Arcata, California. To be more specific, I have a long-standing love affair with their Humboldt Fog ripened goat cheese. A thin layer of ash ribbons through the middle, calling me to experience its beauty again and again. But I digress. There has always been something about French goat cheeses which, for lack of a better word here, bored me. It seemed as though the best French goat cheese makers packed up their terroir and moved to California and Oregon.

When I was given the opportunity for some free cheese from Ile de France, I immediately wanted to try their chevre. Why not give the opportunity to expand my palate to French goat cheeses with a company that has been selling French cheeses since 1936? Surely, they would have retained some talent!

Chevre on crackers

Creamy yet retaining a solid, consistent texture, IdF’s chevre tastes amazingly well on crackers. It is not an overwheming cheese at all. As a matter of fact, I found it surprisingly mild. A taste, I believe, that could make people who normally don’t like goat cheese, like goat cheese. Or at least, give it another try. Equally good on wheat crackers and water crackers, this cheese was definitely best on a multi-grained flatbread cracker with a bit of garlic to bring the cheese to life.

Considering that one of our local goat cheese companies will close one of its farms soon, perhaps it’s time to reconsider a “stock” goat cheese from Ile de France. I think it definitely has macro-paletability, meaning both seasoned goat cheese lovers and beginners who cannot tell a brie from a Camembert would find common ground to gather around this versatile chevre.

Tomorrow, I will share with you my wilted salad recipe using this terrific cheese.

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