At the Farmers' Market: Soledad Goats
Mojave's not exactly a place people expect food to come from, situated as it is in the middle of a hot desert, a stopping point for air shows and people driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas and people connected with the Air Force base.
The first time I saw the sign for Soledad Goats, I was taken aback. "Goats? In Mojave?" Indeed, the goats are raised and milked in Mojave and the cheese is produced a little further into the Central Valley, in Hanford. Carol and Julian Pearce are the goat wranglers and cheese masters, while Twila is the face of the operation at the Irvine Market.
If it's your first time at the stand, try the semi-firm cheeses.
Naughty Nanny is an aged Jack cheese and a good entry point if you've never had goat cheese before. Unaged, I imagine this cheese would be fairly bland; the aging brings the goat flavor to the front without being too assertive. Try this cheese as you would caciocavallo, cut into cubes and thrown into a homemade chicken soup with orzo, or roll it into chile-dipped tortillas for a slightly different take on enchiladas. It also makes a decent substitute for queso Oaxaca in chicharrones de queso: grate it and spread it in a circle on a hot griddle. When it turns brown on the bottom, remove it.
Brazen Billy is their goat cheddar, which tastes like a slightly grassy sharp cheddar, but with better melting qualities: this is what you want to change up your mac 'n cheese recipe a little bit. It also seems custom-made for melting over chicken (or turkey) and apples, on a slice of thick, coarse, crusty country-style bread that's been spread with good whole-grain mustard.
Their smoked Jack cheese, Kickin' Kidd, is a study in understatement. So many smoked cheeses have been hung so long in the smoker that they taste solely of smoke; Kickin' Kidd is a great deal less in-your-face, which makes it a perfect choice for a cheese plate to accompany a young red wine that needs some help on the front end.
The reason I return to Soledad Goats time and time again, however, is their fresh chèvre, the soft, spreadable cheese that tastes like grown-up cream cheese. The cheese is good enough to eat without further adornment, but that would be missing too many opportunities. Spread on bread and toasted so the outer layer browns and the interior melts, then laid on top of a green salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and vinaigrette, it's great. Dessert could be more of the fresh cheese spooned into a bowl, unmolded onto a plate and garnished with nothing more than a little bit of unfiltered honey and a few toasted nuts. If I could afford it, I'd replace the Philadelphia in my cheesecake recipe with Soledad Goats fresh chèvre. (That would cost me nearly $50 just for the cheese, though--I use a lot of cheese in my cheesecakes.)
They also sell flavored goat cheeses, the best of which is the lavender. Mixed with a little bit of sweetener and lemon, there are buds of fresh lavender dispersed throughout. This is breakfast food; spread a little bit on a baguette (conveniently available right next door at Picket Lane Bakery), then dip the newly-born tartine in your café au lait. The cucumber fresh cheese is wonderful spread on warm sangak, the popular Persian flatbread, then rolled with mint, tarragon and crunchy vegetables such as radishes, onions or jicama.
Find Soledad Goats at the Irvine farmers' market on Saturday mornings, 8 a.m.-noon, behind the In-N-Out near the corner of Campus Dr. and Bridge Rd.
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