Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A cherry soup, and a love affair with goat cheese

Sit down for a good dinner with a few French people, and by the time the cheese course comes around, the conversation will often get either cerebral or gastronomical. A little bit like this blog, which lately has really felt like an ongoing and lovely cyber-meal with friends from all parts (you guys). And I have been kind of cerebral in my posts lately, so I’m feeling the need to switch gears to talk about something that has always brought much rejoicing in our lives, namely: goat cheese.

I’ve had a long love affair with goat cheese. When I was a child in Normandy in the 80s, some of the most memorable foods I can remember eating and loving were oysters at Christmas time, my mother’s green (watercress) soup, and the small round goat cheese in the blue box named Chevrita, which I could easily have eaten in one sitting if left to my own devices.

Fast forward 30 years later. Pregnant with Pablo, I had very few cravings... but I did have one in particular. You guessed it, goat cheese again. In every form!

So, unsurprisingly, since he has been feasting on it his entire existence via amniotic fluid (isn’t it amazing fetuses can taste flavors at 21 weeks? The education of taste starts early! Interesting article on this here), then via breastmilk, and shortly thereafter, whenever he could put his own little hands on it, Pablo adores goat cheese. Not just mixed in other things, but straight. And not just the milder chèvre (fresh goat cheese), but the hardcore, aged, gamy-tasting ones too.  The fact that goat cheese is really healthy and easier to digest than cow dairy, is almost irrelevant, really. Goat and sheep’s milk cheeses are the first I gave him when I introduced cheese around 8 months old.

Since I moved to the US some 16 years ago, the cheese has improved a lot here. In variety and quality (thank you, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods). Of course, it's not quite the myriad of artisan cheesemakers found all over France... and we often treat ourselves with imported French cheeses. But there’s nothing like local artisan cheese. Last year, I came across these gorgeous, irresistible goat cheeses made by Vermont Creamery and it was love at first taste. (I had mentioned them for those baked apples with goat cheese).

This is the real deal. I swear, a bite of their Bonne Bouche transports me right back to France. 

So you imagine my delight when Vermont Creamery contacted me recently to 1/ let me know they read and like my blog (so cool), 2/ ask me if I wanted to participate in their Kids & Kids campaign by creating some kid-friendly recipes with goat cheese (even cooler), 3/ kindly offered me some samples for inspiration (full disclosure!) ;-).

This challenge has certainly gotten my culinary juices going, so I’ll be happily sharing some goat cheese recipes of all kinds in the coming weeks, and I’ll be hosting my first giveaway, so stay tuned for a chance to win some delicious cheeses! 

We went cherry picking last weekend in the Leona Valley and came back with pounds of cherries, in dire need of another purpose than to just be devoured on the spot. Thus this successful experiment of a gazpacho. 

Outside of the fact that Pablo loves to say the word "gazpacho" (and who doesn't?), he now loves to help make it (a toddler friendly recipe). And he loves to drink it. It's easy to make, nutritious and vitamin-packed, delicious and fun. Need I continue or are you sold?

The sweet and tangy flavors of this cold soup and the incredibly creamy and delicate herbed chèvre Vermont Creamery makes, were truly a match made in heaven. Ever so flavorful spoonfuls of summer.

For more information on Vermont Creamery and the Kids & Kids campaign (with another cool giveaway!), check out their website, Facebook page and Pinterest board. And try their cheeses, in this soup, or just straight. Cuz they’re that good.

Cherry gazpacho with herbed goat cheese

Serves 4-6

Prep time: 30 mn (pitting cherries isn't for the impatient.)
No cook time

Age for babies: 10-12 months.

10 oz cherries (I used a mix of rainier and bing)
2 very ripe heirloom tomatoes
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/2 cucumber
1/4 red onion
6 leaves of basil
2-3 sprigs of dill, stems removed.
2 tbsp hazelnut meal (or almond meal)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
About 4 oz herbed goat cheese (plain works too)

Prep the first 8 ingredients: starting with washing and pitting the cherries; wash, seed and cut up the peppers;  peel and dice the cucumber; wash, core and cut up the tomatoes; dice the red onion, wash and grossly mince the herbs.

Place it all in the blender and add the hazelnut meal, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Blend on high until very smooth (longer than you think you have to, otherwise you'll feel the cherry skins.)

Place the blender pitcher in the fridge for a couple of hours to chill.

Before serving, give it one last whirl, and pour in bowls. Add crumbled goat cheese on top, and some dill or basil for garnish.

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