In the Loire Valley, Goat is the GOAT
Wine isn't the only great thing about the Loire, as I found on my epic tour of its goat cheese trail.
Though we love the wines of the Loire Valley here at Everyday Drinking, it’s not the only thing we love about the Loire. Last November, in addition to winery visits in Sancerre and Chinon, I got a chance to explore the region’s other amazing specialty: Goat cheese.
Loire is the spiritual home of goat cheese. Though France has hundreds of cheeses (Charles De Gaulle famously declared: “How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?”) only 46 of these cheeses are protected as Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP). Only 15 of these cheese AOPs protect goat cheeses. And five of these goat cheese appellations are made in Loire towns, all within a 2-hour drive of one another: Valençay, Selles-sur-Cher, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Crottin de Chavignol, and Pouligny Saint Pierre.
In fact, I wrote a feature about my adventures on the Loire goat cheese trail that was recently published in AAA Explorer. In this newsletter, I’m also including a special PDF travel guide to the Loire goat cheese trail for paid subscribers (click for download below).
Before I embarked on this cheese journey, I had a excellent cheese coach, my friend Madame Fromage (a.k.a. Tenaya Darlington), cheese expert and author of the encyclopedic tome Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese. She has a colorful way of describing, say, Crottin de Chavignol, the disc-shaped cheese from the town of Chavignol, as “dainty toadstools” that turn “peppery and a little angsty” as they age. Of Valençay, she says, “Were Harry Potter to wave his wand and develop a cheese, it would no doubt be black and shaped like a stunted sorcerer’s cap.”
Madame Fromage insists that true French goat cheese cannot be experienced in America, since raw-milk cheese is subject to strict regulation here. Most American cheese is pasteurized. Any imported cheese made with unpasteurized milk must be aged for at least 60 days—anathema to ideal goat cheese, most of which is eaten within a week or two of production. So to taste the best goat cheese in the world, Madame Fromage insists, you must go to France.
Some of my favorite stops included the quirky cheese museum in Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine, and a morning at the central market in Valençay, near the town’s famous 16th-century chateau. On the drive from Valençay to Selles-sur-Cher, past pastures of nibbling goats, you can stop at a number of farmhouses bearing the sign Fromages des Chèvre Fermier. At one, I rang the doorbell, and a friendly older lady wearing a white apron and rubber boots appeared. She asked which cheese I wanted: the truncated pyramid of Valençay or the circular Selles-sur-Cher. “Both” seemed the only appropriate answer.
In Selles-sur-Cher, I stood in line behind a woman who bought EIGHT discs of the local cheese. Eight seemed somewhat excessive, but a French friend corrected me: “No, that seems about right. One for each day of the week and two for Sunday.”
I guess it goes without saying that I love goat cheese—biting into the dense creaminess, and savoring those slightly nutty, slightly salty, slightly fruity, slightly tangy, slighty funky flavors and aromas, full of nuance and complexity. Just like with wine, there is something about goat cheese that’s hard to explain in words. “The taste of the goat,” as one cheesemaker told me:
“You have more of the taste of the goat in the Selles-sur-Cher, and it’s more acidic.”
“And how exactly do you describe the taste of the goat?” I asked.
“Strong,” he said, with a chuckle.
Later that evening, at my hotel, I understood what he meant by strong. I’d gone out for a walk along the river, and when I returned, the aroma of cheese hung thick and pungent in the room. I opened a window, along with a bottle of Chinon red wine. It was a Monday night and all the restaurants in town were closed, so the hotel made up a simple dinner for the room, which I was planning to enjoy with all the cheese I’d bought.
When I opened the door for the hotelier bearing a tray, I apologized for the smell. He looked at all the chèvre arrayed on the desk and gave a Gallic shrug. “It smells beautiful,” he said.
Click to read more in AAA Explorer (or scroll down and download the guide).
TWO PERFECT CHEESE + WINE PAIRINGS
1. Crottin de Chavignol + Sancerre
“You go to Sancerre for the wine, and you go to Chavignol for the cheese,” says Matthieu Delaporte, of Domaine Delaporte, maker of superb Sancerre. “The match of Sancerre and goat cheese is one of the most perfect pairings you can find.”
2. Sainte-Maure de Touraine + Loire Cabernet Franc
Loire cabernet franc is a wine for people who are over all the nonsense in wine. Cab franc wines, even the best, have a rustic note that hints at something savory, earthy. “You want fruit?” says Cab Franc with a shrug, “Well, what can I tell you? Olives and tomatoes are fruits, too.” It is a perfect pairing with goat cheese.
PDF Guide Loire Goat Cheese Trail For Paid Subscribers
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