Don’t you think high school history class would have been a lot more interesting if the lessons had involved cheese? Take note world history teachers – this next cheese is one that you can incorporate into your next class on european history. Providing samples of course would be up to you.
The cheese I’m profiling in this post is called Bonaparte, based on the French cheese Valençay. The origin story of Valençay is that this trapezoid-shaped cheese used to look like a pyramid until French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte lost his temper. In the midst of the French Revolution, a frustrated Napoleon is reported to have seen this cherished, triangular cheese sitting atop the dinner table in the Valençay castle. Its shape brought to mind his recent defeat in Egypt. In a fit of rage, Napoleon swung his sword at the cheese, cutting off its top and giving shape to the format it’s in today.
Whether or not this incident actually occurred, historians do not know. What we can be sure of however is that the production of Valençay traces back to the Loire Valley in France, specifically the region of Berry where the weather is temperate and the pastureland is lush. Just under two decades ago, Valençay achieved AOC (appellation d’origine contôlée a.k.a. controlled designation of origin) status. The traditional French version is made from unpasteurized goat’s milk and aged just three weeks. It’s skin is wrinkly, soft and coated with ash.
Many of today’s most famous goat cheeses originating from the Loire Valley feature this ash coated rind. This ash sometimes functions as an ode to the past. Historically, cheesemakers used ash as a repellent against insects. They also used to use it to prevent the formation of rind. Sometimes, a milkman/woman only had enough curds from the morning milk to fill the mould up halfway. Until the nighttime milking which supplied the rest of the curds, cheesemakers would pause the chemical process by brushing ash across the curds in the mould. Ash also creates an ideal environment for the growth of desirable molds, geotrichum and p.candidum.
The traditional French Valençay does not adhere to U.S. FDA laws regarding raw milk, as you may or may not remember from a certain previous post, because it is aged for less than 60 days. For that reason, the U.S. government approved version of Valençay features only pasteurized goat’s milk and can be found in a number of American cheese shops.
Lazy Lady Farm, a dairy farm based in Westfield, Vermont has come out with their own Valençay replica which they call Bonaparte for obvious reasons. By giving it a different name, Lazy Lady does not need to abide by the AOC requirement that the cheese be made with goat’s milk from Loire Valley. Bonaparte is a farmstead cheese which means that it is produced from the milk collected on the same farm where the cheese is produced.
Procuring and Tasting:
I bought my Bonaparte from Lucy’s Whey for $11.50. At Murray’s, a renowned cheese shop in the West Village, Valençay is $18.99. Bonaparte is cheaper than Valençay in part because it is a smaller format: 5 oz as opposed to 8 oz. Doing a little research and comparing sizes of classic cheeses and high-quality alternatives before making a purchase can go a long way in saving you a couple of bucks.
Before indulging in Bonaparte and most goat cheeses like it, you’re going to want to let it sit out 45 minutes to an hour. Just beneath the rind, there is a cream line. At a refrigerated temperature, this line is barely distinguishable from the dry, crumbly inner paste. At room temperature, this cream line is moist and more savory than the chalky inside. Wrapped around the cheese, the rind is slightly bitter from the ash which acts as an alkalinity agent.
I paired Bonaparte with honey (excellent!) and clementine (helps bring out its citrusy notes). I also paired it with a Honey Kolsch Ale, a light-bodied beer brewed with honey.
Cooking with Bonaparte (or any other fresh goat cheese you’ve got):
Because Bonaparte is practically a dish in its own right with all that it has going on with it texturally, I decided to cook with a log of plain fresh Vermont Creamery goat cheese which I bought separately (you can find a version of this for under $5 in grocery stores). I opted for a somewhat unusual dessert recipe: Matcha-Goat Cheese Brownies.
I got the recipe from the magazine, Culture. The frosting calls for 4 ounces of goat cheese, 2 ounces of butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon matcha powder and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Once you whisk the ingredients together, spread the green frosting across a pan of homemade brownies for a dense, surprising dessert.
A healthier goat-cheese recipe is a warm goat cheese salad. I used to order this dish all the time when I lived in Paris. To make, warm dollops of goat cheese (rind included) on small pieces of toast for just a couple of minutes in the oven. Add to a simple salad and enjoy.
Goat cheese, both in bloomy-rind and fresh form, are fool-proof. They appeal to most palates and they’re very versatile in terms of how you can pair and incorporate them.