Welcome back to CODY'S WORLD OF CHEESE, where our resident cheesemonger Cody Reiss explains what funky fromages you should definitely be eating.
Home-pickled pig thumbs aren’t the only things in my fridge that are miniature, wrinkly, soft, fragrant, and sold individually. No, I’m talking about something even better: small-format goat cheeses. For those of you out there that like to get high and ask your cheesemonger for mad cheese samples (PSA: We know you’re high and have no intention of purchasing), these individually wrapped goat goddesses can be a little intimidating, since you often can’t try them before committing. Let me give your stoned ass that mental sample you desire, and introduce you to a few of my favorites, this week’s squishy smushables: Valençay, Coupole, and La Tur.
“Small-format” is a general term to describe cheeses that are sold as whole, individual-wrapped units, rather than as slices off of a larger wheel. Many types of cheese are sold in the “small-format” style, from washed rinds to bloomy rinds, but the most common and—dare I say—the dankest types are the young, hyper-soft little wrinklies made from goat milk, simply referred to as “aged goat cheese” or “aged chèvre.” While these squishy tart bombs come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, most of them can be easily recognized by the edible mold they have in common: Geotrichum Candidum. As they age, this groovy mold blooms into a wavy, psychedelic, brain-like rind that softens the cheese from the outside in. Like the arts of tiny tongue kisses and tight-ass omelets, the French pioneered and mastered the art of making these small softies; the fromageries of France are packed with young raw-milk goat cheeses, their insides turned to molten radness, barely clinging to their crinkled, walnut-shell-textured skins.
Due to some wack-ass laws in this country, it’s somehow legal for Kyle to make sweet love to my ex-girlfriend in the bed I helped pay for, but raw milk cheeses are illegal to sell unless they’ve been aged at least 60 days. Since these types of cheeses usually turn into structure-less goop puddles by the time they reach 60 days, most of the young goat milk cheeses you’ll find in the states are made from milk that has been pasteurized, a process that sterilizes milk by exposing it to gentle heat. Fortunately, Kyle is balding, and there are some very chill pasteurized small-format goat cheeses currently available in the States. Let’s dive in.
First up is an American, pasteurized version of a French classic: Valençay. Like many of France’s most celebrated goat cheeses (and wines), Valençay comes from the Loire Valley, a fertile stretch of land in central France. This cheese was originally sold in the shape of a pyramid—Napoleon is said to have sliced off, ahem... just the tip, after returning from defeat in Egypt—but nowadays it looks closer to the bottom half of the Illuminati symbol. (Coincidence?? Yeah, I fucking bet.) Its rind is trippy acid fuel for your eyeballs—the wrinkled exterior is bluish-black from a combo of the geotrichum mold and a dusting of food-grade charcoal, and seems to fold into itself ad infinitum, like a million furrowed brows from a disappointed mother. Similar to the kind of person that uses ad infinitum casually, Valençay’s smell can be a little off-putting: it’s dark, earthy, acidic funk is textbook “goaty,” the olfactory equivalent of nose-diving into the floor of a sweaty barn. As with most young cheeses (and home-pickled pig thumbs), Valençay’s taste and texture changes drastically as it ages. Over the course of its three- to five-week lifetime, Valençay goes from light, citric, and semi-chalky to a mildly goaty marshmallow, then to full-on gamey squish. If that sounds like your kind of thing, you might be a satyr. Try experimenting with some of the other amazing Loire goat cheeses, like St. Maure, Selles-sur-cher, Chabichou, and Crottin. If it’s too goaty for your taste… keep reading.
If you’re looking for a more accessible goat cheese, Vermont Creamery has just the one for you: Coupole. This hay-colored little dome comes twee AS FUCK in a tiny, cute-ass little crate, through which you can peek-a-little-boo-boo at its groovy, extra-wavy exterior. Like velvet pants with pockets made of silky kisses, Coupole is a texture-lover's dream—from crust to core, it's got a thicker, slightly gummy rind that gives way to a goopy cream line, that furthermore gives way to the dense, cakey, almost dry-cream-cheese-like insides. In the flavor department, it’s tart, bright, and salty, before finishing off with a faint barnyardiness. If you like Coupole, it’s definitely worth taking a deep dive into Vermont Creamery’s entire oeuvre—their ash-covered Bonne Bouche gets prettttty fricken’ saucy when it’s ripe. Still too goaty for you? Wow, who even invited you to this barn? Keep reading...
Next, we’re heading to the land of espresso, mortadella, and figs—molto bene. That’s right: It’s ITALY, baby, so pack your meatballs full of suitcases and get ready for La Tur, a cheese you gotta eat to-a love-a. La Tur is a highly snarfable small-format cheese produced by the presumably mustachioed cheesemakers at Alta Langa; it is technically referred to as a “Robiola,” since it is made with a combination of cows’, sheeps’, and goats’ milk. One of the things that makes La Tur tight as hell is that it’s literally a wrinkly cheese cupcake in a to-go container. As you slide the little treat out of its container and peel back the cupcake liner, you’ll get yeasty whiffs of freshly baked bread and hay. Best eaten with a spoon and no self-respect, La Tur’s pillowy, butter-like insides are milky, tangy, and rich. The goat is wayyyy in the background, and the addition of the two other milks makes this straw-colored cream cake an excellent way to dip your toes into the world of young goats. All of the cheeses by Alta Langhe are terribly dank—but be on the lookout for Il Nocciolo in particular.
Once you’ve settled on one of these trill ass goat cheeses, start incorporating them into your daily snarfing regiment. Use the younger, denser cheeses like you would a fresh chèvre, dropping holy nugs into your salads, pastas, and into the darkest corners of your sacred teeth cave. The older softies are aching to be scoop-a-looped onto warm bread with summery fruit preserves, or smeared under your loved ones’ pillows to bring friendly spirits and highest blessings. Because of their small size and often cute packaging, they make a great cheese to bring to a party, or as a solid “I’m sorry I called Kyle a hairless and bloated version of your father” apology cheese. For when you want to drown more than just your sorrows, pair these acidic cheeses with a fruity white, yubbly bubbly lambrusco, or wheat beer.
No matter what you’re drinking or how you’re eating it, have an open mind, and give these wrinkly guys a chance.
Cody Reiss is a comedian, cook, and cheesemonger at Murray’s Cheese in New York City. He has made cheeses at home and on farms in Brazil and New York, and has traveled to more than 35 different countries, sampling over 350 different cheeses along the way. You can follow him on Instagram at @codyreiss.