Artisanal cheese can be found in pretty much every state in the union. I dare you to try and name a state that doesn’t have at least one dairy or creamery. Even the island of Hawaii is home to some great cheesemakers! Over my next few posts, I’ll talk about some of these great American cheesemakers, starting with my home state of Missouri.
The Forche du Clos Valley 65 miles south of St. Louis is full of valleys, fresh water streams, springs and fields, and is home to the community of Sainte Genevieve. That is where you’ll find Baetje Farms, a family-owned and operated farm, and purveyors and makers of some of the region’s best artisanal farmstead goat’s cheese. Originally settled by the French, Ste. Genevieve still retains much of its European flavor—which extends to the cheesemaking process, too.
Baetje Farms produces their cheeses in an Old World style, the same way cheese has been made for thousands of years. Like all good cheesemakers, Baetje Farms focuses first on quality milk. After all, the best cheese is made with the freshest, most flavorful milk. Their dairy goats get their fill of water from a naturally occurring freshwater spring on the farm, and eat a diet of all-natural antibiotic-free whole grain supplemented with organic herbal teas, organic mineral supplements and locally grown alfalfa hay. Every cheese is handmade on the farm with milk from the herd.
At the 2010 American Cheese Society (ACS) Competition, Baetje Farms took home five awards for their cheeses. Two first place awards went to their Cherbourg and coeur de la crème: Bavarian lemon crème. Two other flavored coeur de la cremes and the fleur de la vallee took home second and third place awards as well.
Coeur de la crème (literal translation: heart of the cream) is a fresh cheese that’s made by pressing cultured milk into the shape of a heart and drained until the curd is separated from the whey. It is then turned from the mold and served. More common recipes call for the combination of cream cheese and fresh cream. Coeur de la crème can be made with any type of milk, but the Baetje family uses their flavorful goat’s milk to make this award-winning cheese. I’m a purist when it comes to cheese and usually don’t prefer the addition of herbs, spices or other flavorings. But the Baetje Family makes variety of wonderful flavored coeur de la crèmes, using organic herbs and citrus. Coeur de la crème is one of the most versatile cheeses: it can be savory or sweet, made with fiery chilies or sweet summer berries. There are versions for every palate.
If you are looking to try the cheeses from Baetje Farms, you’ll have to come visit Missouri, since they’re only available around St. Louis. However, without a doubt, you will be able to find something comparable in your local cheese shop. Goat cheese, also known as chevre—which simply means “goat” in French—can be found easily across the nation. There are two styles of chevre: soft and fresh, and aged. Just like aged cow or sheep cheeses, aged goat cheese develops deep flavors. These aged goat cheeses develop mold-ripened rinds. As they age, the mold breaks down the fats and proteins inside the milk to create a soft texture and smooth mouthfeel. The mold also emits a particular scent to the cheese that enhances the taste.
Fresh chevre has a delicious tang that pairs well with a crisp white wine like a sauvignon blanc or a chardonnay. It also pairs well with young red wines such as a malbec or zinfandel. If you’re a beer drinker, a crisp cider, lambic or wheat beer would pair nicely as well. But like with all pairings, you should eat and drink what tastes good to you. Don’t be afraid to try new combinations. Who knows what you might stumble across? And how fun is it to try new cheeses with beer or wine on a chilly winter’s night?
Annie Lehrer is a nurse practitioner who will soon be a farm girl and cheesemaker. Born and raised in St. Louis, she’s been in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother since she can remember. Having a house full of family, friends and delicious food is her idea of the perfect way to spend an evening. A former travel nurse, Annie has lived in various cities across the U.S. exploring diverse culinary scenes. Food—and everything associated with it, from earth to belly—is her passion. She dwells in downtown St. Louis with her cheesemonger husband, Simon. When not caring for patients at the hospital, Annie is swillin’ craft beer with her beer nerd crew, researching livestock, writing recipes, planning chicken coop designs, keeping up with the St. Louis art scene and spending time with her big Lebanese family. She loves cheese. She writes about all things cheese on her blog The Cheesemonger’s Wife. She’s funny as hell. You can try and keep up with her crazy life on Twitter.