It’s springtime, and you can just begin to smell it in the air as the damp ground warms up and the bulbs start pushing through. In the cheese world, there is similar rejoicing, because kidding season (when goats have their babies!) has just passed and the best of springtime chèvres are appearing in the cheese case. Paired with a mineral-driven white, these little goat cheeses make a perfect afternoon snack or appetizer to welcome in spring!
My favorite of all of the confection-like shapes in our goat case is the Valençay Affiné. This handsome, grey, truncated pyramid hails from the commune of Valençay, in the eastern part of France’s Loire valley. Valençay has a delicious, thick, ash-ripened rind over its creamy paste, and to top it all off, this cheese has quite a history! Legend has it that Napoleon, after a disappointing campaign in Egypt, took out his sword and whacked the top point of the pyramid off his cheese one evening, to make its shape less mocking.
The flavors are still there, even if the top point is not. The delicate ash coating underneath the rind slightly de-acidifies the cheese, setting up the minerally, chalky undertones in perfect contrast and highlighting a salty-earthy quality that the best chèvres often exhibit. That’s why I like the cheese so much with this standout bottle of Muscadet from Domaine de la Pépière, located at the opposite end of the Loire Valley.
This special cuvée of Muscadet from white wine superstar Marc Olivier is actually named for the town it’s from in the heart of Muscadet country, and for the soil it is grown on: “granite de Château-Thébaud.” In a region overrun with mass-produced whites that are one-dimensional guzzlers, Marc Olivier is one of a handful of growers determined to showcase the pedigree of their local white grape: Melon de Bourgogne. This particular cuvée comes from a small hectare parcel of granite-rich soil. You can smell and feel all of that clean, stony minerality straight through the finish of this wine, which carries quite a bit of texture due to its extended time left sitting on the lees. Paired with a nibble of salty, creamy Valençay, its quiet apple orchard fruit notes open up beautifully, and its minerally finish clears the way for another tasty bite. Happy spring!