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May 12, 2009
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Wine With . . . Chèvre Salad

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas       

 

One of France's most appealing summertime dishes is a salad of fresh greens topped with baked goat cheese.  Though generally served as a first course, this salad also makes a tasty and light main dish -- the perfect, relaxed meal for a warm summer evening. 

 

The most classic version of chèvre salad comes from the Loire Valley, where it is made with Crottin de Chavignol, an AOC designated goat cheese.  (Like wines, France's best cheeses receive an Appellation d'Origine Controllée, indicating that they come from specific regions and are made in traditional ways.  Today 35 out of France's approximately 500 different fromages are AOC designated).  Although there are no specific rules for this recipe, it is a simple one - salad greens (a mixture, perhaps, of leaf lettuce, radicchio and endive), good chèvre cheese (by itself or on a round of bread), and a basic oil and vinegar dressing.  The cheese may be dusted with bread crumbs before grilling or baking it, and one variation has the slices of cheese dipped in egg and flour and then fried, so that a light crust enrobes a warm, soft, cheesy heart.   Of course you can start adding tomatoes, avocado, green beans, beets, or whatever strikes your fancy, but doing so gets you far from the pure simplicity of the original concept. 

 

Chèvre Salad

serves four

 

8 slices fresh goat cheese (about ¼ inch thick)

1 tablespoon olive oil

¾ cup bread crumbs

1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

8 slices French bread (baguette)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Approximately 4 cups mixed salad greens

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the slices of goat cheese on both sides with olive oil.  In a shallow bowl, mix the bread crumbs with the thyme, and coat both sides of the cheese slices with the mixture.  Arrange the bread on a baking sheet and top each with a slice of cheese.  Just before serving bake them in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Meanwhile, whisk together the 3 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper.  Place the salad greens in a bowl and toss with the dressing.  Divide the salad among four plates and top each with two slices of bread and cheese.  Serve immediately.

 

 

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

 

Beckman Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley (California) Grenache Rosé 'Purisima Mtn. Vineyard' 2008

 

 

  $18

 

In France, Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé is the classic partner for chèvre salad, but we found a range of other delicious options as well.  (We deliberately did not try a Loire Sauvignon Blanc, since we knew already that the match would succeed.)  All the wines we are recommending share a fairly light body, crisp, refreshing acidity, and a purity of flavor.  By contrast, the wines we tried that did not work with this dish were all heavy and cumbersome - due sometimes to tannin (with reds), and sometimes to oak (with reds and whites, including a couple of Sauvignons).  So if you are making chèvre salad this summer, our advice is to think less about grape variety and more about the wine's stylistic profile.  This dish simply demands something bright and fresh.

 

This 2008 rosé is just that.  Though weightier than the other wines we are recommending (all white), it tastes vivid, with red berry flavors enhanced by slightly herbal undertones.   

      

 

Cono Sur, Casablanca Valley (Chile' Sauvignon Blanc 'Visión' 2008 (Imported by Vineyard Brands)

 

 

  $14

 

Made more in the sort of bracing style associated with New Zealand Sauvignons than the more subtle one typical of Sancerre, this grapefruit-scented wine made for a near perfect match with our salad.  That's because the citrus tang so typical of fresh Sauvignon Blanc seems ideally suited to pair with equally pungent goat cheese.

 

 

 

Slatestone, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (Germany) Dry Riesling 'Von Schleinitz Estate' 2007

(Imported by Cellars International)

 

 

 

 $16

 

Off-dry but still riveting (because of the high level of acidity), this wine offered a different profile than the Sauvignon Blanc, but proved to be a delicious partner in its own right.  Its flavors echo apples and peaches, providing a contrast rather than a complement to the salad.

 

 

Céline & Laurent Tripoz, Mâcon Loché (France) 2006

(Imported by Elite Wines Imports)

 

 

  $17

 

This Chardonnay-based wine tastes of crisp autumn fruit in a lean, racy style.  That fruit is enhanced by a chalky minerality, something that made the wine work very nicely with the chèvre and toast.


 

 

Willakenzie Estate, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Gris 2007

 

 

 $17

 

 

The most opulent of the white wines we are recommending, this Pinot Gris did not seem heavy or flabby with the salad.  Instead, its ripe pear fruit flavors made the dish seem richer than with other wines, while the tangy goat cheese kept the wine itself in check.