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Monday, May 16, 2011

goat's milk cheese for dinner: finally, a sign of spring!

this spring has been terrible. it's been the coldest spring in seattle on record, and as a result, spring crops are painfully slow coming in from local farms. we've been cooking soups and stews from ingredients in the freezer, waiting, waiting, for asparagus, spring peas, fennel--anything to make it seem like seattle spring really is different from seattle winter. eventually, i ran out of meats in the freezer, so on a relatively dry saturday we headed out to the u district farmers market for some ground beef so we could continue on with our maddeningly snores-ville diet of chili.

but guess what? goat's milk has its highest fat content in spring, during kidding season, and that makes for some pretty decadent fresh cheese. so when we saw the port madison goat farm and dairy booth, we thought, oh yes--cheese plate dinner.

we brought home two amazing cheeses from port madison--a fresh chevre and their short-season spring cheese. the chevre was bright white, incredibly creamy, and had a barely-there texture. the flavor was wonderful, and relatively mild. the spring cheese is a goat's milk cheese that is aged two months, with a great springy texture (its name seems to describe it in two ways) and a fantastic mild goat flavor. the spring cheese can only be made during the first couple of months of the milking season, so spring and early summer are the times to look for this one.

also on our plate were honey hazelnut crackers from beecher's in pike place market, stewed dried apricots from pipitone farm, hazelnuts from holmquist (because they are THE BEST), and vanilla rhubarb preserves. by combining cracker, cheese, and fruit, we quickly made a welcomed observation--each bite tasted like cheesecake!

super simple stewed dried apricots below, from deborah madison's book, seasonal fruit desserts. this is a truly stunning book, and anyone into fruit or dessert should have this on their shelves.

dried apricots stewed with vanilla and honey
adapted from compote of dried fruit, seasonal fruit desserts by deborah madison

3/4 cup honey
1/2 vanilla bean, or substitute high-quality vanilla extract
2 cups dried apricots, or mix of dried fruits
3 cups water

combine water and honey in saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring. scrape vanilla bean seeds into pan and add pod, or add vanilla extract. add fruit, reduce heat to low, and cook until apricots are soft, about 10-15 minutes. (could be longer if using mixed fruit.)

when fruit is cooked, remove from the pan with a spoon, leaving the syrup in the pan. simmer syrup for a few minutes to thicken, then pour over fruit.