Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel
Mid-March, a few weeks before Easter and in the numerous goat herds around us, nearly all have given birth or as they say here, "mise-bas". The warmth and good weather have been a plus. Our friends build a wall of hay bales in their barns to keep in the warmth and protect the kids as the cold winds can be fierce. But this year, with the wind holding off and the sun shining quite gloriously, the kids are out trotting with their mothers nearly immediately. In a couple weeks, the markets will begin to overflow with the new cheese.
I count a number of goat cheese makers amongst my friends, but I think my dearest is Isabelle. Sophie, my beekeeper and a fantastic source of contacts and suggestions, brought us together a few years' back when another goat cheese maker I visited was unavailable. Isabelle and her husband Paul Pierre are people I love dearly. I want to hug them and hold onto them at each visit. In their eyes I see sincerity, affection, amusement, and the gift of appreciating the moment and the people they love. It is magical and catching. Educated as architects, they met in Paris, and soon decided that the architecture scene of the 1970s wasn't for them. They went back to the country of their roots and started raising goats and making cheese. She is the go-getter, the one who launched many a work-site, collaborations with other farmers, and who, alongside Sophie, joined groups of organic women agricultural workers, pushing for better recognition, opportunities, and more. Paul Pierre is the more reserved one, hesitant, but in the end willing. Often, I believe he would simply sigh, push back his fatigue and jump in to pick up the pieces strewn by his much loved wife in her headlong momentum through life.
In the art and rhythm of goat cheese making they have built a life that welcomes visitors, nourished their daughter (and now their grandson!), and allowed them to slowly renovate the ancient olive oil mill that is their home, stable, and cheese-making facility. In the early years, when they had the physical force to attack any and all projects, they would spend the "off season" of the winter working on the buildings. But as time passed, they came to the realization, that just perhaps, the job wouldn't be accomplished in their life-time. And they are ok with this. Learning to accept your limits is a gift, if it comes soon enough.
And I think it did come just soon enough. Isabelle is very sick with a brain tumor. She is no longer charging across the country joining rallies for women agricultural workers. Her more political and active days are behind her. She is more than ever now living in the present with conscious joy in her brand new grandson, her daughter newly installed next door, and her husband more present and attentive since they passed on their goats to a former intern. And yet, with complete lucidity, she is also living the slow and persistent deterioration of her brain, and in particular the area that touches the concept. Bouts with various chemotherapy treatments hold the illness at bay for short spans before it starts back up again. Reading is no longer possible, long discussions wearying. She is there, in the present, grateful for and loving of those around her, and oh so aware of what the future holds for her. At first she had to give up driving, but now, even going up and down the one stairwell in the house is something she does to a minimum.
And yet even here, she is generous. I visit and we talk of her illness, but also of my children, of JP and I (she makes allusions to her couple with Paul Pierre, and that it is possible for a go-getter to be with a more reserved type, that perhaps we'll come to the point where the opposites that we are will balance and nourish and inspire...). She is the loving, head square on her shoulders, gentle and accepting aunt that I so need over here. She is my adopted family replacing those I left back in the States. I cherish the times we are together, and no doubt I talk too much. But I so value her counsel and her experience. I visit as often as the distance and my busy life permit, bringing a bit of my bread, or a story, or some of JP's wine, or just myself happy to be with her.
Isabelle is also my main resource for the chapter in my book project on artisans and recipes for teens and kids. She has shared many of her recipes with me, including the basic ones for making cheese in the style she has for so many years. And, last year, at a moment when she was a bit less weary, she gave a short cooking class to my boys and our friend Alexandra. It was a magical moment, the kids loved everything they made -- from herbed cheese spread to olive oil and goat cheese cake.
The herbed cheese spread was easy, and though it had enough greenery to put off many a child, the kids -- artisans of their own dish-- loved it. Here, with love, generosity and a nudge to live in the present, is Isabelle's recipe:
Collect all the ingredients and put them on or by your work surface:
2 fresh goat cheeses about 100g (3.5oz) each
cream (3 tablespoons)
salt (½ teaspoon)
fresh mint, chives, parsley, tarragon and cilantro -- or what you might have on hand, basil, lovage, celery leaf, thyme...
A rubber (or silicon) spatula for scraping the bowl
A mixing bowl
Put the two cheeses in the mixing bowl, pour in the cream, and mix till smooth with the whisk – about 3 minutes.
Next with kitchen scizzors, snip the fresh herbs in a small bowl or cup – this way you don’t lose any on the kitchen floor.
The mixture we used was: 10 mint leaves, 10 stalks of chives, 2 teaspoons of tarragon leaves, a good handful of parsley, and just a pinch of fresh cilantro (Isabelle said to be careful with this herb as it is really strong in flavor).
Taking turns, we mixed for a couple minutes each, adding salt to taste (depending on your cheese, and your taste buds, you might not need any salt, so definitely taste first before adding any).
Enjoy on bread, with chips, or with carrot sticks and celery sticks. Definitely something to make for Mom and Dad’s parties, or even to stuff home-made pasta.