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Crottin de Chavignol

Yes... It's the quintessential goat cheese from France
and one of the worlds finest goat cheeses made only in the Loire Valley of France.

This month Jim brings us the history and details of one of the most classic goat cheeses from France.


A Bit of History:

Our story for this cheese takes place along the Loire River of France. This river is one of the longest rivers in France where its headwaters begin in the Auvergne mountains of south central France then flowing north and eventually turning west to the Atlantic ocean.

This region of the Loire Valley is located just to the south and west of Paris. It is a rich agricultural area and is known especially for it's wines and many famous goat cheeses.

This river marks the northern extent of the Saracen advance as they moved through Spain and into France. The name Saracen, however, is used locally to apply to the Arabs, Berbers, Moors and Turks who attacked, occupied or harassed the country until the 18th century.

One of the great contributions from the Saracens was the introduction of their goats to the region and their methods of making cheese that came with them.
Goats, rather than sheep, were the most sensible choice for these travelers because of the range of pasture they could adapt to and the ease with which they could be moved.

This part of the Loire Valley has also become known as the "Land of the Kings."

Today their influence can be seen by the numerous castles that dot it's landscape. These most probably date back to the troubled times of conflict and bloodshed between the rulers of England and France.

Yes!... not much has changed over the years.


The "Crottin de Chavignol" name is linked to its name-sake village of Chavignol where the cheese has been made since the 16th century.

This village also neighbors another very famous village named Sancerre and a very important French white wine is attached to that name as well.

At one time, there were many variations of the cheese, each with it's own unique character, and all named for the village from where they were produced.

Variations in Style

The Crottin de Chavignol is a small cheese made of goats milk. In its young stage of life, it is about 2 inches in diameter and 1 inch in height weighing in at about 2 oz. per cheese. In it's youth it develops a rather distinctive white surface coat due mostly to natural yeast and a natural geotrichum bacteria. As the rind develops, it will take on a rather unique rippled appearance due to this particular surface growth. The young cheese has a subtle nutty flavor that shows off the quality of the local goats milk. The body of the young cheese is solid and compact.

As it ripens further you will find that the body becomes crumbly and the mold on the rind is replaced by one with a bluish color. The blue doesn't mean that the cheese is bad but that a more complex flavor has developed. The true flavor of this will be when the rind is consumed with the cheese body.

The cheese will undergo varying lengths of aging from several weeks to 4 or many more months - thus producing a range of very different flavors.

Crottin de Chavignol can be eaten at various stages of the maturity process.

  • After 8 days weighs 140gr (5oz) and has a strong nutty taste.
  • After 21 days the cheese begins to come into its own with a much more complex flavor and the surface begins to show various molds developing.
  • After 4 months, the cheese weighs only 40gr (1.5oz) and has turned into a more complex cheese. The surface at this point is covered with darker dried molds and the paste is very dense and strong in flavor.
  • When the cheese is allowed to age even longer the surface will turn a grey/brown color and the body of the cheese will become very dry. The flavor becomes very complex but time to taste it is essential.

Originally, "Crottin" was the traditional term for a fully ripe cheese with long aging to the extent of being described as "shrunken, black, and hard to the extreme limit of edibility" by Pierre Androuet the famous French cheese specialist. I still see a group of people presenting these very same traditional cheeses at the cheese festival in Bra Italy. They do look like dark truffles, just dug up from the forest floor. I actually do like these longer aged cheeses but the flavor is strong and may be an acquired taste. 

Androuet also favored the medium aged cheeses beginning at 21 days and aging for up to a couple of months. He felt this cheese to be more "approachable" to his customers yet with the traditional Crottin character. At this point the flavor develops more fruity flavor as well as a softening of the paste near the surface.

One of my favorite writers on French Cheese is Patrick Rance in his book "French Cheese."  He writes about selling a larger version of Crottin that had been very fresh and open in texture as well as many of the medium ripened cheeses of similar style but with local character and with different names.  He also mentions that this was not the traditional Crottin of years past. He speaks of only the gnarly, aged, grey/brown cheeses traditionally meriting the name of "Crottin de Chavignol"... BUT ... times change along with tastes and the commercial presentation of much younger cheeses are mostly what we find today as "Crottin de Chavignol."

As the larger commercial production increased, these cheeses became younger with a minimum ripening time of 10 days (AOC). As the AOC applied its protection to this cheese, the Crottin style became more of a younger cheese and sold in the 10-60 day window. In the US these cheeses must be either made from pasteurized milk or aged more than 60 days.

Unfortunately, the AOC rules also allow the use of pre-frozen curd and the 10 day minimum aging does not bring the cheese into it's true character. They also forced the exclusion of cheeses made outside this region that had been made under similar process but sold under different names. In this case the AOC has shown its colors for the large commercial cheese makers and the loss of many regional cheeses has been the result.


Making Crottin Style Cheese with Goat's Milk

The following is our recipe for making 4 nice cheeses from a gallon of goat milk.
The guide can be easily doubled by increasing the ingredients proportionate to the milk volume.

Before you begin:

You will need:

  • 1 gallon of fresh goats milk (pasteurized if selling and aging less than 60 days)
  • 1 packet of our Chevre culture (OR you may use 1/16 tsp MA011 but will need to add 4-8 drops of rennet)
  • 1/16 tsp of Geotrichum for the surface mold (to be added to the milk with culture)
  • Liquid rennet is not needed for the Chevre culture but will be needed for the MA011
  • A medium grain cheese salt
  • A good thermometer
  • A spoon or ladle to cut and ladle the curds
  • 4 of Ricki's Crottin molds or similar
  • A colander and butter muslin to drain the curds
  • Draining mats to allow the whey to run off from the molded curds and to be used in drying and aging
  • Calcium chloride for pasteurized cold stored milk or if the milk does not form a firm curd

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.


Acidifying and heating the milk:

Begin by bringing the milk to room temp (74F/23C).

Once the milk is at room temp the culture can be added. To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.

Coagulation is caused primarily by lactic acid production:

If using the Chevre packs that Ricki offers you will NOT need to add rennet because Ricki has included enough powdered rennet in these to form a good curd.

If you do use the MA011, you will need to add 4-8 drops of strength liquid rennet. This will depend on your milk and how it coagulates. If the curd still seems weak after 24 hours, add a bit more next time. If you add too much, your curd will be difficult to drain.

Also add about 1/16 tsp of our Geotrichum mold to the milk at the same time as adding the other cultures. This will develop into a thin white surface during aging and if the cheese and aging space are the right moisture, will develop into a typical convoluted surface on the cheese, as seen by the picture shown to the left here.

The milk now needs to sit quiet for 18-24 hours while the culture works and produces the lactic acid that coagulates the curd. The thermal mass of this milk should keep it warm during this period. It is OK if the temperature drops a few degrees during this time but not below 72F.

The indications that the curd is ready to ladle are that it has separated from the sides of the vat and there is a half inch layer of whey on top - plus there are usually cracks in the curd body. The temperature should have held steady throughout the night.

Draining the curds and releasing the whey:

Line a draining colander with sanitized butter muslin in preparation for pre-draining the curd. A ladle can now be used to transfer the curds to drain in cheesecloth for 6-18 hours at a temperature of 68-72°F and then packed into Crottin forms.
They can be ladled in small scoops directly into the forms, but this is not traditional and will form a denser textured cheese.

The time period of draining and the temperature of the room will determine the extent of whey draining from the curd. These conditions will regulate the body characteristics and determine the final quality of the cheese. Higher temperatures can favor gas formation as well excessive moisture loss. Lower temperatures inhibit whey drainage and may end up with high moisture problems in the aging room.

Once the curds have been gathered and briefly drained, they can be hung in the cloth to promote draining. The cloth can be opened and the curd mass mixed lightly to promote even drainage about half way through the drainage.

At this point the pre-drained curd is now ready to be transferred to the Crottin molds.

They will fill the molds, heaped to the top at first and then will settle to about 1/2 to 1/3 the mold height when fully drained.
This may take another 12 hours.

Salting:

About 2 hours after filling the molds, sprinkle a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt on the top of each curd in it's form.

The next morning, the cheese can be removed and turned back into the mold. Add another quarter teaspoon of kosher salt on the top of each curd in its form.

In the late afternoon, the cheeses are now ready to be removed from the molds and placed on drying mats to allow air to circulate on all sides. The drying room should be about 60-65F, about 65-75% moisture and a small fan to circulate the air will be a big help in drying the residual moisture from the surface.

This drying may take 1-2 days during which you may see a different surface as the salt migrates into the cheese and some ambient yeast begin to form on the surface. Once the cheese surface takes on a matte appearance and all free moisture is gone from the surface, the cheeses are ready for the cave (or whatever you have for an aging space).

Aging:

At this point, the cheeses are ready for whatever aging you have intended for them but do try to give them the 2-3 weeks to develop some character. Even though the AOC has them on the table in 8-10 days, you will be happier with the character of this cheese after a few weeks of aging. The cheese needs to be placed on a surface that will allow air flow to the underside. I find that the small bamboo mats work well for this.

The aging space should be 48-52°F and 90% relative humidity with a gentle air flow over the cheeses. Turn the cheeses every day until they are completely covered with white mold. You should find this developing within ten days from spraying the cheeses.

Many folks have trouble keeping a high enough moisture, so they keep the cheeses in covered plastic containers in a refrigerator or cold room so that there will be enough humidity. The top can be set ajar to let in air if there is condensation but if too much, should be wiped out daily. You will find that the cheeses can age for several weeks. It is a good idea to turn the cheeses and rub the mold down periodically to prevent the rind from getting too thick.

At about 10-12 days, the surface should be taking on a nice white appearance that will eventually lead to that nice rippled surface so characteristic of this cheese.

At this point the cheese can be held in a cooler space at 38-44°F.

From here on out, it is a matter of how much character you want to develop in your cheeses.

As mentioned above, your cheese can age for quite some time or it can be consumed at just a few weeks old.

One of my favorite expressions from Charlie Papazian, the homebrew guru was: "same but different" and I think it definitely applies here in a big way.

The cheeses will continue to lose weight as they age and lose moisture and the surface will change considerably as new molds adapt to the drier surface.

The body of the cheese will become much drier and denser.
The flavor will also become much stronger, revealing more of the true capric flavors of an aged goat cheese.

As I understand, there was a time when the cheese makers would dry their cheeses in small wooden cages hung from their eaves outdoors during good weather or in open halls outside the cheese room to enhance flavor.

These photos below show the cheese in various ages of aging and clearly show the changes in surface and transformation of the cheese body, mostly caused by enzymes produced by the surface molds.

Young and fresh
A bit more age and character
What its really all about!

One last thing before leaving this month is that the basic fresh cheese is also excellent when rolled in just about any herbs, peppers/chiles, even flowers etc., especially when fresh during the summer.

Also, try the same thing with cows milk and you might be surprised. All of our friends here love it when we bring it to them fresh and rolled in summer herbs or flower petals.


So, as we enter the New Year, I see it as another opportunity to explore new cheeses and meet new people making fabulous cheeses just the way people have been doing for centuries as well as the folks stepping out a bit and adding their own twist to their specialties.
I am already beginning to make my plans for visits around the ACC conference this summer and my trip to Italy and France again in September.

So, just the best wishes in 2013 to y'all!

(No I'm not from the south but I just love the way it sounds.. Is that OK Alyce??)

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Thanks for joining our cheese making family, keep those stories & photos coming. We love to hear from you!

In Peace,
Ricki, the cheese queen

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