I asked Lydia Burns, cheesemonger at Marion Street Cheese Market, to pick one of the cheeses in her case that she found most interesting and delicious.
Burns chose Sofia, a soft-ripened goat cheese from Capriole Farms in Indiana.
Capriole Farms is owned and operated by Judy Schad, one of the grande dames of goat cheese production in the U.S. Most of the goat cheese makers in this country seem, incidentally, to be female. I wondered aloud why girls and goats seem to go together so well, and Burns conjectured that “maybe it’s a size thing, they’re not as large as cows, they’re almost like dogs: they recognize and respond to you. The kids are adorable, and it’s very easy to have a connection with them.”
Whatever the connection, Schad and others are turning out some great goat cheeses.
Sofia is covered and layered with ash, which provides an alkaline balance to the acidity of the goat milk. The fungi that’s used to culture the milk is p. geotrichum, used in many traditional fungus-ripened French cheese. “The nice thing about geotrichum,” Burns explained, “is it encourages all molds to grow, so you get little deposits of the blue molds and white molds.” Though “mold” might not be a word one associates with good flavor, when it comes to cheese, rich flavors can develop based on the types of molds used.
And the flavor of this cheese is superb. As it ages, it develops more ooziness, which gives the cheese a range of textures from crumbly and foamy to almost liquid, with great depth and complexity.
Burns described the flavor as “definitely goaty, but not overwhelming. Nicely balanced. And as people are getting more used to umami flavors, though charcuterie and pates, maybe they’re coming to embrace these stronger flavors, which reflect where the animal is coming from. To downplay these notes is to take away from the essence of the animal.”
I enjoyed this cheese with a green salad and bread, nothing to fancy so as to foreground the cheese. If you want to pair it with a beverage, Burns recommends a Loire wine, like a Sancerre or Sauvignon Blanc, based on the theory that “what grows together goes together.” Sofia reflects the cheese making style of Loire Valley chevres. “I particularly like sparkling Chenin Blanc, which is great with this rich cheese because the bubbles scrub your tongue. The major disservice of wine is that it doesn’t have carbonation, so sometimes the fat in the cheese can subdue the flavors of the wine, whereas with a sparkling wine or beer you can get a lot of interesting interplay.”
Sofia costs about $28 per pound. I was happy with my one-quarter pound purchase. A little bit can be very satisfying.