Shopping for cheese can test the endurance of even the most food-obsessed. The typical modern cheese counter has so many delicious options from so many interesting places, with flavors and textures and shapes all over the map. And yet, when it comes down to identifying the cheese that is always in my fridge at home, the cheese I can eat straight out of the packaging and also serve gussied up with fresh herbs and truffle honey when company unexpectedly drops by, the choice is surprisingly easy. Fresh chèvre is my go-to.
A lot of people who think they don't like goat cheese actually do like fresh chèvre. It lacks that rank, stall-mucking goatiness aged goat milk cheeses have--though if you want to, you can ripen fresh chèvre in the fridge a few weeks after you've opened it. (THIS STATEMENT HAS NOT BEEN ENDORSED BY FOOD SAFETY AUTHORITIES. I, however, dig the stink.) Because chèvre is so mild, you can pair it with a wide array of other flavors and foods: fresh springtime vegetables, bitter wintery greens, sweet autumn starches, and juicy summer salads. It's great in pasta, salads, burritos, pizzas, and hot or cold crostini, though as a general rule adding it to a dish at the very last minute lets its delicate flavor and fabulous texture shine.
On a cheeseboard I like to dress up my chèvre Provençal-style by mixing in chopped thyme, ground pepper, and/or roasted garlic cloves and pouring over a healthy portion of high quality olive oil about an hour before I want to serve it. Change the accent with Middle Eastern herbs like mint, cilantro, and parsley, and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses over the top.
Since chèvre is so soft and shapeless, you don't need to worry about special cheese knives or proper cutting etiquette. Plus, you can sculpt it into whatever shape you need for your platter, or even mash it down into a little serving ramekin. I like to mold the cheese into a small hockey puck shape (aka crottin, which means "goat dropping"), roll it in finely chopped herbs and fresh ground pepper, and transform it into a cheeseboard occupant that's worth three times the price. With such an inspiring name to boot, who could resist?