July 29, 2011
goat cheese with honey, figs and roasted almonds
As I continue to learn more about eating well, it's become important to me to support local producers of food. Lately I've been buying raw goat's milk from a local farm along with eggs and chicken. Buying from an organic farm also means I get whole food that is minimally processed, free from unnecessary chemicals and fresher than most of what I might buy at a typical grocery store. Since we planted a garden this past spring, our backyard is now also a (very small scale) local producer of food. The flavor of freshly picked zucchini, green bell peppers, cantaloupe and herbs is richer, deeper, and wonderfully fragrant. It's also no small amount of work, and gives me a small glimpse of just how hard a farmer works to provide food of quality to the consumer. It's a night and day job where you are dependent on the soil and weather and have to be diligent to keep the pests or disease that inevitably appear from consuming your crop. Having a garden reminds me of how dependent we are on things that are predictable, such as rainfall, not becoming unpredictable.
Fortunately, even though I wasn't diligent to re-pot them this year, my fig trees are still budding predictably in season. I wanted to use the figs I'd harvested from our trees in a different way than the jams and tarts I like to make, and thought the creaminess of homemade goat cheese would make a good combination. I also thought roasted almonds and honey would be a nice complement. I've made the goat cheese before, using the recipe I found online from Rainbeau Ridge Farm, and doubled the recipe to create enough cheese for a few layers. It's a slightly sweet, creamy creation scented with fresh thyme that you can serve as an appetizer or light dessert, and best eaten as soon as possible. So, what are you waiting for?
Goat Cheese with Honey, Figs, and Roasted Almonds
2 quarts raw goat's milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 ounces fresh figs
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup raw almonds
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
An empty 28-ounce can with the top and bottom removed by a can opener, to use as a mold
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Measure 1/2 cup almonds and spread out on a baking sheet. Place in oven and roast for 8 to 10 minutes or until slightly browned and you can smell a nutty aroma. Remove the almonds and transfer to a cool plate. Once almonds have cooled, mince them into very small pieces.
Cut the figs into halves or fourths (depending on size of fig) and place in a small saucepan with 1/4 cup honey. Turn heat to medium until mixture begins to simmer and then reduce heat until barely simmering. Cook for 15 minutes until figs have softened. Use a potato masher to smash the figs into a smooth pulp if needed. Remove from heat and set aside.
Pour milk into a medium saucepan. Heat milk over medium-low heat to 180ºF, using a thermometer to check the temperature. When the milk reaches 180ºF, stir in lemon juice, remove from the heat, and let sit as the whey from the milk separates from the curds. Once the milk curdles, pour into a strainer lined with dampened unbleached muslin or two layers of cheesecloth placed over a bowl. Pour curdled milk into lined strainer and let drain for several minutes. To finish draining cheese, pick up corners of muslin and gather together, then gently squeeze the bag to remove excess moisture until cheese is slightly firm. Scrape cheese into a bowl. Stir in salt and thyme.
Take the empty can and line the inside with a piece of dampened muslin large enough to line the can so that the muslin rests on the bottom and also has enough excess fabric to drape over the sides. Scoop 1/3 of goat cheese into the bottom of can and press lightly with your fingers to spread compressing into the mold. Spread half of fig mixture on top of cheese, and sprinkle 1/3 of roasted almonds over fig mixture. Repeat with another 1/3 of the goat cheese, pressing to spread and compress into mold. Top with other half of fig mixture, and sprinkle with 1/3 of roasted almonds. Scoop remaining 1/3 of goat cheese on top, again pressing into mold, and top with remaining roasted almonds. Fold excess muslin fabric over top of cheese inside the can.
Place a weighted mason jar (pictured above) that fits just inside the can on top of the goat cheese mold. Place in refrigerator for an hour or two until chilled and solid. Remove mason jar and lift ends of muslin to remove goat cheese mold from can, and carefully unwrap muslin from goat cheese. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Serves 2 to 4 as an appetizer or savory dessert