Mild or tangy, goat cheese becomes a favorite in the US

The earthy, aromatic cheese named chevre, made from pure goat's milk, has been the most popular cheese of the year, replacing Brie as the favorite white cheese in the United States.

As if out of nowhere, several different varieties appeared in cheese shops across the country, imported from France. It has become so popular that more people are raising goats and there are several producers of the cheese here in the United States.

The speedy rise in popularity for this soft, off-white, goat milk cheese is not just another whim of food fashion. It is partly one of economy.

Since the beginning of last year there have been quotas on imported cheeses, except for soft-ripened ones like Brie or Camembert and except for l00-per-cent goat, sheep or buffalo milk cheese, which provide little competition to American cheese makers.

The French, who produce almost all of the world's goat cheeses, encourage export, and importers were happy for the opportunity to offer Americans something new and different.

The somewhat homemade quality of this cheese appeals to both the French and Americans since other areas of the French cheese industry are becoming somewhat industrialized.

Although four out of five cow's milk cheeses of France are now factory made, half of the goat cheese is still made by hand on small farms.

I visited a goat farm in Chemere, near Nantes. I had heard of it at a wonderful country inn in Questembert, Le Bretagne, run by a talented chef and his wife, Michele and Georges Paineau. The food there is exquisitely presented and Chef Paineau's dishes are full of color and originality.

He suggested I might be interested in the goat farm, where a woman and her family tend their 72 goats and make fine quality cheeses which they sell mostly in Paris.

A small laboratory where the cheese is made and an electric milker were in one end of the barn. Large cheeses are kept eight days in refrigeration, small ones 24 hours in the frementation stage then 24 hours of dripping and 24 of refrigeration; some are aged different lengths of time for specific customers.

The cheeses are shaped in the classic mold shapes which are a round,a pyramid shape and a roll. We tasted one that was tangy and slightly sour and another, more aged, with a much stronger flavor.

While the daughter tends to the feeding and caring of the goats grazing in the steep, rocky area nearby, her mother spends much of her time turning the 130 -odd quarts of fresh goat's milk into stout cylinders of firm, pungent, creamy-yellow chevre.

''It's a lot of work, day and night, with little respite, but it is very satisfying,'' she explained.

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