Like Licking a Goat…

Here’s just a quick post about my first experience with St. Maure Chevre…

First, I am not a food snob.  Sometimes I’m obnoxious, but I assure you, it’s without any other reason than that I’m oddly particular.  I don’t judge food and I don’t judge your tastes (intentionally) because frankly, food to me is about both comfort and nostalgia.  So, when I tell you that my first experience with goat cheese was on a chevre-producing farm outside of Tours, France in the Loire Valley, it’s not because I’m showing off, it’s because I had truly never been exposed to goat cheese before this time.

I was 19 years old and had followed my friend, Amanda, to France to study abroad for the summer.  This was my first trip abroad without my family, and I was thrilled and terrified for the adventure.  About a week before taking off, my then-boyfriend took me to see the movie “Final Destination,” about a class field trip to Paris where the plane crashes… Needless to say, he’s an ex-boyfriend now.  I don’t know if it was that movie or just the fact that it was my first flight sitting all by myself, but that was also the first time that I realized that I am terrified of flying.  That’s a dandy little peak into just one of my MANY increasing phobias and superstitions – oh, just remember to touch the outside of the plane before boarding… that helps keep in the air, you know…  as do crying babies on your flight… because what kind of a God would kill babies in a firey plane crash???

Back to the cheese.  One of the many excursions worked into my study abroad program was to a small goat farm that produced Saint Maure Chevre.  At the time, I was convinced that I might be allergic to the goat cheese since I had only recently discovered that after years of riding horses, I had developed an allergy to them.  And to me, goats and horses smelled EXACTLY the same.  I peeked out of our coach bus upon arrival at the farm and was slapped in the face by the overwhelming heavy, slightly sticky sweet, hay and animal sweat scent of goats galore.  My first instinct was to run.

Luckily, my dear friends mocked my fear and forced me from the bus to confront the odor-producing fiends face-to-muzzle.  Damn, they were cute.  They stank like there was no tomorrow, but those little cud-chewing bastards were super adorable.  While my friend played with stray kittens that she found scampering amongst benches of hay (insert every stereotypical, bucolic image that you can), I hesitantly petted the coarse foreheads of a pack of rank goats.  Their oppressive, syrupy stink was about to chase me away when someone called to me to come and see the baby goats…

Oh… sweet… cheezits…  These soft, poodle-sized (although I’m not a fan of poodles – they seem arrogant), puddle-eyed mini-goats were endearing in the way that they stumbled over one another, trying to stand upright to get closer to my waiting hand, ready to caress those buttery ears.  They just killed you in the way that toddlers stumble around, their legs not yet strong enough to fully cope with the enormous weight of their bowling ball noggins.  Even their annoying, staccato calling was heart-warming… if only they didn’t stink…  Yet still, I pet away, enjoying their adorableness and thinking slyly, well, how much worse does this really smell than anything else in France.  (FYI – that’s a terrible joke – I’ve never actually met a stinky Frenchman.  Their cabbies smell MUCH better than most of our regular citizens do).

Finally, we walked into the cheese-making facility for the shock of my life.  After smelling the goats and swearing that I would forego tasting the cheese (even though up to this point, I LOVED cheese and had trouble refusing any food in general), I was completely surprised when a stocky French woman donned what looked like a hazmat suit and led us into a stainless steel, white, sterilized cheese-making facility.  There, I learned about how goat milk was collected, coagulated, and molded into a tube surrounding a straw that was both traditional and used to help the tubular cheese maintain its shape — to this day, I sometimes think “paille” instead of “straw” when I see a singular piece of hay.  We were then led into another room where the goat cheeses were coated in vegetal ash (although I didn’t recall it being vegetal ash at the time, but just know it now from the Murray’s affineur giving me a “it’s vegetal ash, you dumbass” look when I asked later), and aged for 1 week, 3 weeks, 7 weeks, and then 10 weeks at its oldest.

As we sat at large, wooden picnic tables set over hay in an outdoor barn area, I anxiously awaited what this “chevre” would taste like.  Part of me hoped that it wouldn’t smell or taste anything like the goats that I was trying to rub from my hands onto my jeans (remember, this is before the days of Purell…  whoa, right?  Yup, I’m THAT old).  When the first, 1 week aged chevre arrived, sliced into a round with just a small hole interrupting the snow-white, ridged perfection of the cheese, I leaned in and sniffed.  Yup, still smelled like goat, but not in the sweat-covered coarse-haired fur-ball way that the goats had.  The scent was milder, a little sour, but not in a bad milk way at all.  Now that the cheese lay in front of me with just the faint wisp of a bloomy rind circling its outer edge, my normal food-cravings set in and my mouth began to salivate.  I grabbed the disk and bit in…

Delicious.  Yes, it still tasted a little like licking a goat, but damn, that tangy mild-creaminess could not be disliked.  It tasted fresh.  I was completely perplexed by how something that came from an animal that smelled anything but could taste like fresh-picked flowers, vegetables and fruit.  As the aged versions arrived, each one becoming a little more plastic-y, somewhat resembling stained glass, I was intrigued by how the animaly-ness actually changed into nutty, almost meaty notes.  In fact, the 10-week aged St. Maure was quite nice and snackable – it was like al dente pasta, its texture providing a lovely break from the soft creaminess of the younger versions.  While the cheese was enlightening, the apple cider that we were then served (also produced on the goat farm) was unfortunately NOT what I had been hoping.  It was as if an apple had been rolled across the back of a sweaty goat before being pressed and fermented…

After that trip, I ate “salade chevre chaud” as much as possible before leaving France.  In fact, I ate it almost daily following my daily infusion of a pate de campagne sandwic and fromage blanc with fraises du bois.  When I returned home, sadly, I couldn’t find my St. Maure again.  I found other, delightful Loire Valley chevre varieties in different forms/shapes, but never that beautiful, tubular bundle of goodness complete with paille core.  In my complete ignorance, I had no idea that it would be hard to find in the states.

As the years passed and my waistline increased, I’ve found my delicious St. Maure many, many times.  But nothing prepared me for the day that I stepped into the caves at Murray’s as an intern and was asked to pat down the fuzzy, penicilium candidum mold surrounding the delicate and tender goat-milk cheese forming on a fresh log of St. Maure.  Mike, the affineur, is not one for displays of emotion, so I hid the chills that ran up my spine and sniffed in the tear forming at the corner of my eye, quickly patting, rolling, and flipping the fragile logs.

It’s such a small thing, literally.  It’s a log of goat cheese for Christ’s sake!  Yet for someone like me, who everyday questions whether or not leaving my old career (and paycheck) was the right decision, it was a silent confirmation that I’ve chosen the right path.  Sometimes I forget to savour moments like these, but luckily, a little thing like the scent-memory of a stinky goat welled up enough emotion to make me stop and be thankful.

1 Comment

Filed under This never would have happened in Finance

One response to “Like Licking a Goat…

  1. An

    Ah du bon Saint Maure, c’est que du bonheur!

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