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David Lissner
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Eat this! Chevre, fresh cheese from the goat

West Town Tavern's goat cheese napoleon. (Photo by Dan Dry.)

West Town Tavern's goat cheese napoleon. (Photos by Dan Dry.)

What it is: “Chevre” just means “goat” in French, but the term refers to a soft and creamy, fresh white cheese made from goats’ milk. It has a distinctive tangy flavor. In America, this cheese is often just generically called “goat cheese,” but other styles of cheese, including feta and a version of cheddar, are made from goats’ milk as well.

Chevre is usually sold in cylindrical logs, but it may also be molded into rounds, pyramids or other shapes. Some cheesemakers coat the freshly made cheese with herbs, cracked pepper or other seasonings.

Susan Goss (Photo by Dan Dry).

Susan Goss

Where it comes from: Goats were among the earliest domesticated animals, raised for meat and milk in the Mediterranean since at least 8,000 B.C. The ancient Greeks ate goat cheese: historian Xenophon, born in 349 B.C., wrote of cheese made for centuries in Peloponnesus. In the epic poem “The Odyssey,” written about 800 B.C., Homer describes the cyclops molding goat’s milk curds.

An easily made farmers’ cheese, chevre is today produced all over the world. In the U.S., some of the best come from Indiana, Wisconsin and California.

What to do with it: Chevre makes a delightful addition to salads, combines readily with other ingredients for dips and spreads and can even be used to make savory cheesecakes. Or just spread it plain on crackers. It substitutes well for cream cheese in many recipes, adding zestier flavor. At West Town Tavern, Chef Susan Goss combines herbed chevre and crisp squares of phyllo for a simple, fresh appetizer.

West Town Tavern’s crispy goat cheese napoleon with grilled asparagus and cherry tomato vinaigrette
Chef Susan Goss

“Look for a fresh goat cheese log coated with chopped herbs for the easiest preparation, or snip some herbs and coat a plain log,” advises Goss. This recipe is adapted from her 2010 cookbook, “West Town Tavern: Contemporary Comfort Food” (Chicago Books Press, $34.95, available at the restaurant).

3 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
4 tablespoons fine breadcrumbs, toasted
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 cup white wine vinaigrette
2 tablespoons chopped mixed fresh herbs, plus extra for garnish
16 spears asparagus, grilled
1 8-ounce herb-coated chevre (fresh goat cheese) log

West Town Tavern cookbook

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay the phyllo dough on work surface, covered with a piece of plastic wrap and a damp towel. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the parmesan.

Lay a piece of parchment paper or foil in front of you and place a sheet of phyllo on the parchment. Brush the phyllo lightly, but completely with the butter. Sprinkle with one third of the breadcrumbs and parmesan. Lay a second phyllo sheet on top and repeat the buttering and sprinkling of breadcrumbs and cheese. Repeat with the third sheet of phyllo.

With a sharp chef’s knife, cut the phyllo stack into 24 pieces. (Cut straight down, without slicing back and forth; this way the parchment paper won’t be cut.) Cover the phyllo with a second sheet of parchment and transfer the whole package to a jellyroll pan. Place a second pan, right side up, on top of the parchment and slide the 2 stacked pans and phyllo into the oven. The second pan keeps the phyllo squares flat and helps them crisp.

Bake the phyllo until crisp and deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool on the pan. Remove and discard parchment. Baked phyllo squares may be reserved, covered loosely with foil at room temperature for 2 days.

In a small bowl toss the vinaigrette with 3/4 of the herbs. Slice the grilled asparagus crosswise in halves. Slice the chevre into 16 rounds.

Place 1 phyllo square on each of 8 plates and top with 1 slice of goat cheese and 2 pieces of asparagus. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon vinaigrette. Place another phyllo square, goat cheese and asparagus on top; drizzle the asparagus with 1 teaspoon of the vinaigrette. Top each stack with a phyllo square. Add tomatoes to the remaining vinaigrette and mix gently. Divide evenly and spoon on top of phyllo stacks. Sprinkle with the remaining herbs. Serve immediately. 8 servings.

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