Creamy and feather-light new season goat’s cheese from Provence
It is impossible to visit the south of France and not hear of le mistral. Even if you don’t hear the word itself, you’ll still hear it, rippling through lavender fields and rustling bushes: for like the chinook in Canada and the sirocco in the Sahara, le mistral is a wind.
And not just any wind at that. Le mistral is strong, cold and unforgiving of short skirts, sun hats and dead leaves that are only just clinging on to their branches. Thus it is that in Francois and Vanessa Masto’s Provençal garden, there is a sweet chestnut tree from which fragrant brown leaves are periodically stripped. Most people would chuck the lot on the compost. But, as cheesemakers, the Mastos have found a use for this strange harvest: a pretty, protective casing for their Mistralou goat’s cheese.
Their 70-strong herd of roves goats—a beautifully-horned heritage breed which faced extinction up until recently—are milked from February to September, when they are out grazing “for at least four hours a day,” says Tom at Mons Cheesemongers. The combination of local herbs and grasses makes for a sweet, creamy milk which is almost perfumed, and the resulting cheese is aged for no more than two or three weeks.
“Back before plastic and wax wrap, cheese would be wrapped in whatever material the cheesemakers could find to protect it,” says Tom. “Francois and Vanessa have continued that tradition, by collecting leaves from their tree in their garden and wrapping the cheeses at their kitchen table.” It doesn’t make a huge difference to the flavour of the cheese—a bit of earthiness at most, he continues—but it is a sweet nod to the area’s rich history of cheese and chestnut leaves: Banon, the Mistralou’s more famous chestnut leaf-clad cousin, also hails from Provence.
Tom recommends serving Mistralou with honey, to enhance the natural sweetness—“and bread. Bread is always better with cheese than crackers,” he says firmly. As for wine, a safe bet—especially at this time of year—is a crisp, dry, icily chilled Provençal rosé.