WARNING! Not all cheese in this post is kosher. Only the Israeli Barkanit cheese mentioned at the end. I posted this here anyhow because the non-kosher French background shows where the Brakin brothers of Barkanit Dairy got their inspiration for their OU/cholov yisroel kosher cheeses.
“Grey and overcast” is a favorable weather report when it comes to soft, fresh goat cheeses.
The Loire Valley of northwestern France is home not only to exquisite, stony châteaux, but also to ash-coated goat’s milk cheeses with undertones of limestone and silky cream. Three of the most famous Loire goats—which come to the U.S. via Jacquin—are Selles-sur-Cher, Valençay, and Sainte-Maure (all three non-kosher). In their native France, the cheeses are A.O.C. name-protected. However, because of U.S. pasteurization laws, the “real” French versions cannot be sold here under the French names. Instead, the U.S.-geared cheeses go under “Tradition Jacquin,” but often with the original French name alongside to reflect the cheese’s unique history and pedigree.
One sunny spring day, I hit Artisanal Fromagerie in NYC—which is a cheese shop located within a French bistro—and picked up a Selles-sur-Cher (non-kosher).
Light and cheesecake-y, with tiny puffs of light blue and grey mold sprouting through the darker speckling of ash, this little goat turned an average Tuesday afternoon into the “Perfect Day” that Lou Reed rhapsodizes about in his hit song: It’s such a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with…cheese!
Available in the U.S. in varying degrees of ripeness, it is usually found in a spreadable state with a youthful, lactic tang. As the microbes works their wonders, Jacquin develops an earthier flavor that is sweetened by the grey mold surface.
The slight film of bloomy rind helps it to ripen from the outside in, giving it an almost fudgy texture when extra mature. Selles-sur-Cher (non-kosher, but see below for a fantastic kosher alternative…) is a delightful nibbling cheese that pairs well with steely Sancerre or other Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Loire Valley.
Many cheesemakers have travelled to this magical valley to learn the secrets of the French maîtres fromagers. Among these pilgrims are Michal and Avinoam Brakin of Barkanit Dairy in Israel. After their French training, they created several Loire-style cheeses, two of which are dusted in vegetable ash.
Shahat, a blended cheese based on sheep and goat milk from the dairy’s own herd, bears an uncanny resemblance to Selles-sur-Cher. It, too, comes in a flattened disc and is coated in an artful combo of grey ash and fuzzy mold. The interior is slightly flaky in the center and creamier towards the rind. More robust than its French doppelganger, Shahat is both vibrant and buttery from its fusion of milks. It is excellent with white wines, especially Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and unoaked Chardonnay. Barkanit cheese is certified kosher by the OU and is cholov yisroel.
Springtime brings temperamental weather, but on some lucky days, every milky-white cloud has a silver-ashed lining.