I was recently invited over to a friend’s house for lunch on her rooftop patio to celebrate the return of the sunshine to New York City. It was a beautiful day for a city-style picnic and the fare was in tune with the weather: light and fresh, but still satisfying.
The highlight of the meal was an herbal arugula salad with toasted walnuts and wine-plumped cranberries surrounding a slice of slightly warmed Crottin de Champcol, the pasteurized American version of the AOC-controlled raw milk Crottin de Chavignol. The original French version of the cheese is made in the village of Chavignol and has the signature mineral taste of Loire River Valley goat’s milk cheeses. These cheeses are small — each piece weighs only two ounces — and very reasonably priced (around $5.99 each). The Champcol in our salad had a mild acidity and slight tartness that paired well with the peppery arugula, and the warming of the cheese brought out a deep goaty aroma. My hostess opted to accompany the dish with Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA: an impeccable match.
This spring picnic got me to thinking of all the ways I’ve enjoyed this cheese throughout my time in the business. The classic Crottin pairing is a warm baguette and a chilled glass of Silex, a Pouilly-Fumé from a single vineyard belonging to Didier Dagueneau (now produced by his son Louis-Benjamin). The cheese and wine are a perfectly balanced combination and a great example of terroir.
Adding Crottin to a beet salad is another great way to feature this cheese as the weather warms up. The sweetness and earthy qualities of the beets contrast the cheese’s flavors of wet stone and slate. Tossed with red onions, lemon zest, and a bit of olive oil, it’s an unpretentious indulgence for a weeknight dinner. I suggest pairing it with the 2014 Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. This wine’s minerality and sweet undertones bring out those corresponding qualities in the cheese and the beets, respectively.
Versatile and readily accessible, Crottin is a cheese that offers a great deal of flavor, tradition, and history at a bargain price. Like most softer goats milk cheeses, it is superb in the late spring and early summer, so take advantage of the season and pick one up for your own picnic — be it in the woods, on a rooftop, or in your own backyard.