Editor’s note: This is the final installment of Del Norte Eats to be written by Kelley Atherton, who is leaving for graduate school at Columbia University. She came up with the concept for the series.
Ocean Air Farms in Fort Dick is making down-on-the-farm creamy, tangy goat cheese or chevre (French for goat) as it’s also known.
Down in Arcata, Cypress Grove Chevre has made a name for itself with its goat cheese — its chevre products are sold in local grocery stores.
ara Westenhiser milks Tweety, one of the goats at Ocean Air Farms in Fort Dick. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
Chevre is not difficult to make at home, as long as you’ve got a supply of goat milk. It’s an alternative for people who can’t eat dairy products.
Like a lot of other cheeses, goat cheese just takes time and practice to find the perfect recipe.
Paul Madeira, an owner of Ocean Air, has been experimenting with chevre for several years.
“Having a goat to eat your brush is different than getting a gallon a day,” Madeira said.
Ocean Air brings in interns from all over the country to help take care of the farm during the growing season.
Mara Estes, from upstate New York, and Tara Westenhiser, from Arkansas, were milking the farm’s cow, Mimi, and goat, Tweety, on a recent morning.
They said the difference between milking the two animals is that cows have more milk and bigger teats so milking goes faster. Goats are harder to milk, but they’re less intimidating because they’re smaller.
After they were done with the milking, they poured it through a filter (to get any hair or debris out) into a container.
Mimi’s calf Beefcake was fed a large bottle containing some of her mother’s milk and some of Tweety’s because calves thrive on it, according to Westenhiser.
After the goats were milked, Madeira pasteurized a gallon of milk in a large pot on the stove top in the kitchen on the farm by heating it up to 160 degrees and then letting it cool to 86 degrees.
“You have to wipe the slate clean,” he said, then the starter culture adds some flavor.
Having fresh milk is a part of life on the farm, so the farmers started experimenting with milk products.
“Subtle variation makes all the difference,” Madeira said.
Once the milk was pasteurized, Madeira added rennet, which is enzymes produced in animals’ stomachs that coagulates milk, causing it to separate into curds and whey.
He then added chevre culture, which begins the fermentation process to make cheese.
The goat milk then had to sit for at least 12 hours to solidify.
The next day, Madeira cut the curd and poured it into a strainer lined with cheesecloth to separate the whey and then hung the cheese for about 36 hours — the rest happens all on its own.
The thing about cheese, he said, is that it’s the process of taking water out of milk.
The end result was thick and creamy with a little bit of tangy flavor. Goat cheese is diverse — it spreads easily, but also crumbles into chunks depending on how it’s being used. It’s also melts into a smooth cream when heated.
Goat cheese is one of the more healthy cheeses and I happen to like its flavor. I use it a lot on pizza, in salads, alongside beets, it pairs particularly well with balsamic vinegar — the possibilities are endless.
But I never thought to use it as filling in a tart.
Whenever I look for new recipes, I go to epicurious.com. I typed “goat cheese” in the search engine and found oven-dried tomato tart with goat cheese and black olives as one of the top results.
Three of my favorite things in a tart? Sold, sold and sold.
The description with the recipe noted, “Oven-drying the tomatoes before baking the tart concentrates their sweetness and prevents juices from softening the filling.”
Tomatoes will soon be available at the Farmers Market. In the meantime, I picked up some organic heirloom (in my opinion, the best tasting kind and pretty to boot) and roma tomatoes.
A friend happened to leave oil-cured black olives that the recipe called for (she got them at Fred Meyer) at my house after a get-together. It was fate.
The first thing to do was dry the tomatoes in the oven.
I cut each one in half and took out the seeds. Placing them cut side up in a pan, I scatter-minced garlic and thyme and drizzled olive oil over the tomatoes.
Heated to 300 degrees, the tomatoes roasted for nearly two hours until they were wrinkling and a little charred.
I prepared the crust by rolling out a sheet of puff pastry and fitting it into a tart pan. It was a little tricky getting the square sheet into a round pan, but I wrestled with it until it worked.
Be sure to pierce the crust with a fork before baking because the puff pastry does indeed puff up.
I weighed it down with dry beans, but it was still bubbling up. I pierced the bubbles with a fork to get the crust to relax.
While the crust baked, I mashed together shredded mozzarella with the goat cheese with some thyme, eggs and cream and seasoned with salt and pepper.
A sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese and the tart was ready to bake for about 35 minutes.
I was happy with the result. It’s an attractive tart with bright tomatoes and dots of black. The cheese mixtures baked to a golden brown and the crust was flaky, and I mean flaky. It was cheesy and tart from the tomatoes, tangy from the goat cheese and savory from the olives. A great summertime appetizer or a main course with a side salad.
This tart reminds me of California: fresh ingredients, healthy and a little European.
I don’t know how my Midwestern family will take to a goat cheese tart, but I can’t help but take a little bit of the California way of eating home with me.
Recipe: Oven-Dried Tomato Tart with Goat Cheese and Black Olives