A great way to become familiar with any type of cheese is to spend an evening discussing its history, production, and taste while nibbling on prime examples. This I learned while attending Julia Rogers’ Night School for Cheese Fans class on goat cheese which she delivered to a packed house of 20 at the Leslieville Cheese Market (East) on Thursday.
While I would classify myself as a cheese fan, I am more likely to show my appreciation by devouring large amounts of the stuff than by carefully contemplating the smell, taste and texture of a cheese. Julia taught me the error of my ways as we ate our way through five goat cheeses and discussed each one individually.
Learning the history and the specifics of the cheesemaking process helped to build an appreciation for the cheese that went beyond the pleasure of eating it. I was impressed to learn goat cheese made its way to France in the eighth century, and was produced at almost all family farms. It seems everyone had a goat or two kicking around the farm, and families took advantage of this by churning out their own cheeses.
As a cheese-tasting neophyte, I benefited greatly from the guidance of an expert. Julia suggested subtle undertones that could be detected in each cheese, and encouraged students to concentrate while tasting, in order to discover delicate flavours on their own. Her expertise was also helpful in suggesting suitable wine and beer pairings for each cheese, as well as dishes that could be improved by the addition of a goat’s-milk cheese.
I was amazed to discover how much cheese appreciation has in common with wine tasting. Where I would normally pop a piece of cheese into my mouth without much thought, Julia insisted I give attention to the nose, texture and acidity of each goat cheese. This certainly helped to enhance my enjoyment of the cheese.
We sampled cheeses from France, Holland and Canada, and I am pleased to say my favourite was Chevre Noir from Chesterville, Quebec, an 18-month-old tangy cheese. I was surprised to learn it was a goat’s-milk cheddar. Before the class, I hadn’t realized goat’s milk could be used in a variety of cheese types, including cheddar and blue.
The history of goat cheese in Quebec was interesting to learn, mainly because it is such a short history. Goat cheese production didn’t take off in the region until the early 1980s. Prior to that, goat’s milk was primarily produced for hospitals, where it was fed to premature babies whose underdeveloped digestive systems were better able to process the small fat molecules present in goat’s milk.
When the tasting was complete and the wine had run dry, many students hung around to ask Julia their cheese-related questions. My tasting companion and I chose to press ourselves through the crowd to the cheese counter, where we took advantage of the 10-per cent-discount offered to attendees by snapping up three goat cheeses. And a new batch of goat cheese lovers was born.
Phoebe Powell recently returned to Toronto after traveling for three months across Asia where she found few opportunities to sample cheese.