I bet those vacuum sealed logs you find at most grocery stores are not the kind chevre you’ve been dreaming of making. Hand rolling is the traditional, and best, way to achieve chevre greatness, through a beautifully smooth texture and the perfect denseness. By making your own logs you will never again have to settle on bland herb combinations – the flavors you can choose are endless and catered to your palate. Plus, it’s like play dough for grownups.
As with any cheese, starting with fresh quality milk makes a huge difference. The final texture and workability of the chevre is based on the moisture content. You want it to be on the drier side, though, not so dry it won’t spread. Hanging for about 24 hours should produce good results, as long as the ambient temperature and humidity isn’t too extreme. After your cheese is done hanging, mix in salt (if using), and refrigerate for at least four hours.
The temperature of the chevre is an important factor of rolling. Cold chevre is stiffer and will crack more easily. On the other hand, warm cheese will stick to surfaces and be difficult to shape. There ideal point is between pliability and wetness. If the chevre becomes too warm from working it, just stick it back in the fridge to chill.
Lumps in chevre are the enemy! They are formed by moisture inconsistencies that develop while the cheese is hanging. The outside, and particularly the top edge, is drier than the inside, so when you mix them together small lumps are formed by the bits of dry cheese. To eliminate these lumps and create a heavenly smooth chevre, you must work out the lumps by hand. I call it the cheese knead. After the cheese is completely chilled, divide it into equal sized portions. Gently work through each portion with your fingers. Feel for lumps and squish them between your forefingers and thumb. Once all the lumps are gone, form the chevre into oblong or elongated ball shapes. Starting with the general log shape decreases the amount of rolling needed later.
Now for the rolling! You need a surface that the chevre won’t stick to and that won’t move around too much. A chilled marble cutting board works great, but a large sheet of wax paper taped to the counter will suffice. Start by applying a firm but gentle pressure in the center of the chevre ball and roll it away then towards you (it’s just like making play dough snakes). Continue working it back and forth until it reaches your desired length. There will be cracks! When this happens just mash it back into a ball and start over. To finish, tap the ends with your hands until they are even and smooth. If you’re cheese it to wet and/or warm to be properly worked, you can follow the follow the same process but roll them into balls instead.
Plain chevre is delightful, but the real joy of logs is the endless flavor combinations you can create. Pick out your favorite herbs and spices to make combinations that suite you. Fresh herbs are most rewarding but dried ones work well.
You have several options on how you apply the herbs and spices. Mixing them into the cheese itself will create a uniform, stronger flavor. Also, depending on what you’re using it can lightly tint the cheese. For example, honey can add a beautiful sunny hue to your cheese. If you want a milder flavor, you can just drizzle or sprinkle the log. A combination of both will give you great flavor and presentation. Rolling the log in dried herbs, coating all sides of the log more thickly, is another option. I find this method can be overwhelming and uneven in flavor – too much and only on the outside. You can also add liquids like maple syrup for flavor. Make sure not to overdo it or logs will become impossible to handle as they become very wet.
The moisture in fresh herbs can adversely affect the cheese after several days. It will make the cheese unpleasantly runny and ultimately decrease its shelf life, so serve it within a few days. Conversely, the moisture in cheese will affect dried herbs. With dried varieties it’s best to make the logs a day in advance so that herbs will be soften, but not turn mushy or unsightly. Some herbs may discolor the cheese. This can work in your favor or make ugly cheese.
Popular chevre combinations are Herbs de Provence, blueberry vanilla, cracked peppercorn and cinnamon cranberry. I like to make dill & chives, maple walnut and honey sage. But, the sky is really the limit – basil, fennel, garlic, cilantro, coco, rosemary, sesame seeds etc. Try herbs paired with the food you’re serving or the wine you’re drinking, like lemon thyme with a chardonnay.
Hands down my personal favorite is honey lavender. Used in moderation, lavender adds a wonderful floral hint and bright citrusy notes. Using a quality raw honey adds a touch of sweet earthiness, while beautifully complimenting the lavender. Add a tablespoon or more of honey to the cheese then roll. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon (depending on the size of log) of lavender on top of the log. For a gorgeous presentation, sprinkle buds on the serving plate and drizzle honey across the top. It’s best to refrigerate the log for 24 hours to rehydrate the buds. Lavender can be obtained at many health food stores or ordered online. Make sure you buy edible grade buds, preferably organic. Don’t be intimated by the price – it is very light and a little goes a long way. I urge you to give it a try!
There are many chevre recipes out there – feel free to use your favorite or check out Mary Jane Toth’s on Hoegger’s site. I personally prefer a recipe that uses a dash of rennet (like Toth’s) to get a firm, consistent texture ideal for chevre log rolling. Just remember you don’t want the cheese too wet or it will be messy and difficult to roll.