Last night my friend Alain Madonna joined us for dinner as part of class at On Rue Tatin. Alain makes award-winning goat cheese in a small “laboratory” on the grounds of his 16th century manor house, and he came with a selection of his cheeses for us to sample.
Before Alain was the area’s premier goat cheese maker he was an ombudsman for farmers. When one of his clients mentioned he wanted to retire and sell his goatherd, Alain jumped at the chance to change careers. With the herd came the know-how to make award-winning cheese, and that’s what he’s done for the past fifteen years.
He arrived with a small selection of cheeses - some pure white, some dusted with black ash, some golden with six weeks of aging, and one three-month old specimen that was hard and tasted like a sharp Parmigiano Reggiano.
He explained how he takes milk warm from the goat, mixes it with rennet and lets it sit for 24 hours, until curds develop. These he drains, and puts in molds for 24 hours, then unmolds and salts them. Some of them get a dusting of vegetable ash, which inhibits bacterial development, resulting in milder cheeses than if the ash was absent.
Alain’s cheeses, made in small quantity and with great care, never cease to astound. They are so pure, so clean tasting, so mild when young, and so robust once they’ve aged.
Naturally, there were leftovers. We took the youngest of those today and made a goat cheese terrine, seasoned with allspice, mint, and tarragon, studded with pine and pistachio nuts, and wrapped in translucent strips of blanched zucchini.
The result? A light, lovely and refreshing – and rather impressive if I may say so – little first course to set on the table!
FRESH GOAT CHEESE AND PISTACHIO TERRINE
TERRINE DE FROMAGE DE CHEVRE FRAIS ET PISTACHES
1 pound (500g) soft goat cheese, drained
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 heaping fresh tablespoon tarragon leaves
1 heaping tablespoon fresh mint leaves
The zest from ½ lemon
3 tablespoons pistachios, lightly toasted, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
3 medium zucchini, rinsed, both ends trimmed
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1. Put the goat cheese into a cheesecloth lined strainer over a bowl, and let it drain overnight, or for at least 3 hours.
2. Transfer the goat cheese to a mixing bowl. Add 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
3. Mince the tarragon, the mint, and the lemon zest together, and stir it into the goat cheese. Taste for seasoning, and adjust.
4. Bring a medium pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Near it, fill a bowl with ice water. Prepare a draining rack by putting a cotton tea towel on a cooling rack.
3. Cut the zucchini in thin lengthwise strips. Add as many strips as will easily fit in the boiling salted water, and blanch just until they soften and turn translucent. This will take 1 minute. Transfer the zucchini to the ice water. After about 30 seconds, transfer the zucchini from the ice water to the towel-covered cooling rack, to drain. Repeat with all of the zucchini strips.
5. To assemble the terrine, line a 2 cup (500ml) terrine or bowl with zucchini strips, leaving them hanging over the edge. Reserve enough zucchini strips to cover the top of the mold.
6. When the terrine is lined with zucchini, put one-third of the cheese mixture into the mold. Top it with all of the pistachios. Top with half the remaining cheese mixture, and top that with pine nuts.. Top with the remaining cheese mixture. Fold the ends of the zucchini strips over the cheese, and fill in any spots with the remaining zucchini strips. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
7. To serve, put a plate on top of the terrine, up-end it and shake it so the terrine falls gently onto the plate. Drizzle the terrine with 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, season with fleur de sel, garnish the plate with herb sprigs, and serve. The terrine slices very well, with a very sharp knife.