Friday, May 4, 2007

The little cheese from Sancerre

And now for the cheese. Our Crottin de Chavignol, which seductively translates as "animal poop" or "dung," named in honor of its similarity in size and shape to French horsey droppings, first saw the light of day in the 16th century. Unlike the American dish, "shit on a shingle" that is fortunately served in even rarer instances than its distant cousin, green jello with canned fruit and mayo, the sweet little goat cheese disk had a much brighter future.

Although le Crottin was first made in Chavignol and still carries the village's name, it is now primarily made in the towns of Pitou, Berry, and Perigord that border Sancerre, in the Loire Valley. Cheesemakers take the whole milk of the famed goats in the area and ladle the smooth liquid into its tiny molds. The milk stays in the mold from twelve to twenty-four hours, where it starts to take it's "Crottin-like" shape. The wrinkled, rippled surface develops on the cheese after it's removed from the mold, salted and ripened from 10-12 days in a dry environment.

Then its sent to Parisian cheese shops, or shipped to us.

Fresh or fully mature, le Crottin de Chavignol exists in multiple forms that can soothe the dairy pains of many a particular cheese-eater. At different stages in its life, it seems to morph into entirely different types of cheese. Ranging from white and butter-colored when young to gray or off blue when older, and it's texture respectively alternating from crumbly and lush to thick and hard enough to employ as a door knocker when one's knuckles grow weary, le Crottin is a shape shifter.

With bright, herbaceous and lemony flavors, le Crottin can be enjoyed shortly after its creation as a spreadable or melting cheese . It is white or slightly yellow now, and soft and crumbly. One of the favorite ways to eat this Crottin young is warmed over toasted bread in a Chevre Chaud Salad in Parisian bistros.

Later, as it matures- sometimes as soon as a month or so after it arrives in the U.S., it develops a firmer texture that allows the cheese to be grated or sliced. This is the time to Introduce this Crottin "of a certain age" grated over gnocchi, or sliced atop artisan salumi with tarragon in a crusty baguette.

When young, le Crottin screams for a Sancerre, or other bright, fresh Sauvignon Blancs. But at this early stage it really pairs well with anything. As it ages, try it with another wine from the Loire Valley, where the cheese is made. Try it with a Cabernet Franc- the red grape of the region, or with a Chenin Blanc from Vouvray. Another good match is a Grenanche based wine. Fair warning: when young, notre petit Crottin can stand up to a Pinot Noir, but when it ages, it becomes a tad to strong for the delicate grape.

If le Crottin de Chavignol has caught your heart as it has mine, check out the site listed below. Janet Fletcher is a food writer for the SF Chronicle that is in charge of the wine and cheese pairings. A couple years prior, she wrote an awesome article on le Crottin. It'll keep you occupied as long as you can keep your seat in the chair before running to your local fromagerie


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