Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lingot du Quercy

By Janet Fletcher: The Food and Drug Administration's rules on pasteurization have not been kind to French goat cheeses. Almost all the producers of classic Loire Valley goat cheeses -- Sainte-Maure, Valencay, Pouligny-Saint-Pierre -- have had to start pasteurizing the milk for the cheeses they ship here to meet our food-safety standards.

Our government requires 60 days' aging for raw-milk cheeses for food- safety reasons, and all these beloved cheeses are matured less than that. For years, a few importers have given us the pleasure of the authentic, raw-milk versions, but enforcement has become more stringent, and the raw-milk contraband has all but vanished.

Retailers, who know these cheeses much better than I because they handle them every day, say the pasteurized products just aren't the same. They don't mature as reliably and rarely develop the creamy texture that you find in raw- milk soft-ripened goat cheeses. They can still be enjoyable, but we'll have to go to France now to sample these regional specialties at their best.

Lingot du Quercy, a soft-ripened goat cheese from France's Quercy region, just south of the Perigord, brings the raw-milk issue to mind. The exported versions of this cheese were initially made with raw milk. Today, I am told, the milk is pasteurized, but you wouldn't guess it from the luscious texture and considerable flavor that this superb cheese delivers. It would be fascinating to taste it alongside a raw-milk version to see if pasteurization has taken a toll on this cheese.

The Lingot is made by a small cooperative in a region renowned for goat cheese; Rocamadour is the area's best known. As its name implies, Lingot du Quercy has the shape and appearance of an ingot, or thick bar. It weighs just under 6 ounces so is perfect on a cheese tray for six. When ripe, it will have a bloomy rind with some tan or gold markings, and it should develop some softness as it matures from the outside in. At its best, it is molten just under the rind, becoming progressively firmer toward the center, so that the diner experiences a range of textures. Notice how light it is on the tongue, neither chalky nor gummy as some goat cheeses are. Do eat the rind; if you try to cut it away, you will lose too much of the creamy part underneath.

Lingot's flavor is assertive but not strong, faintly suggestive of the barnyard. It is salty, but just enough to make you want another bite. The pronounced tang makes me think this cheese has enjoyed a long, slow fermentation. In late summer, I enjoyed it with a dry rosé made of Rhone grape varieties, but in this season's cooler weather, you may want to open a red wine. Choose a youthful, fruity wine without a lot of tannin, and you won't go wrong.

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