For the Love of Goats (and Goat Cheese!)

I love goats. They are endlessly curious, highly acrobatic and just plain fun to be around. They are, well, capricious, a word whose Latin root literally means “goat-like.” My love of goats is followed closely by my fondness for goat cheese, with its distinctively tangy taste reminiscent of the farm.   I was reading about artisanal cheese makers a while back and came across a post about a small goat dairy in Tennessee that is making some outstanding cheeses. Reading a little further, I saw that the farm was within a half hour’s drive from my hometown! On my next trip back to visit family, I decided to stop by.

Bonnie Blue Farms is owned and operated by Gayle and Jim Tanner, two Northern Californians who felt the creep of urban landscapes and, as Gayle put it, “set out to find the last dead-end dirt road in America” to put down new roots. They got pretty darn close. It may not be the last dead end dirt road, but it certainly is remote. Gayle, a charming and energetic farmer that clearly loves her goats, greeted me at the gate. A goat farm is a lively place and there is no such thing as a day off. Gayle feeds her milking does sweet-smelling alfalfa hay that she buys in Montana that keeps the milk for the cheese rich and sweet. The Tanners make creamy fresh chevre, ready after only a week, as well as salt-cured feta and other more refined, complex cheeses aged in a climate-controlled cave. All these cheeses tasted unlike any goat cheese I’d ever had. I left with a great appreciation for what farmers like Gayle and Jim do to bring us the remarkable food that often we take for granted.

Goat cheese and strong-flavored greens are perfect together. This simple salad brings out all the great qualities of both, and brings to mind the freshness of the farm.

Endive and Watercress Salad with Baked Goat Cheese

Mold fresh goat cheese into 8 small pats using the palm of you hand. Put the cheese in a bowl with olive oil, black pepper, finely chopped rosemary and a minced garlic clove. Let sit for an hour, basting often.

Preheat the oven to 425. Remove the goat cheese from the oil, saving the oil for the dressing. Gently roll the goat cheese in breadcrumbs.

Make the salad dressing by whisking together 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, ¼ cup sherry vinegar and 2 egg yolks. Slowly add the reserved olive oil marinade, whisking constantly until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Trim 1 bunch of watercress and quarter 3 small heads of endive. Place the goat cheese on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake about 7-8 minutes, until the cheese is beginning to bubble and brown. Toss greens with dressing and arrange on salad plates accompanied by 2 pats of the warm cheese.

Serves 4                 Wine  A slightly acidic white, like a Bordeaux, to balance the sweet creamy cheese

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