Is there anything better than a plate of fresh bread and an assortment of cheeses? Maybe a plate of fresh bread, an assortment of cheeses, and some spiced nuts, but, still, it tough to go wrong with the basic building blocks of cheese and bread. It may not be the healthiest, most complete meal I could ever choose, but it is definitely a meal I find myself leaning towards whenever I am offered an opportunity to pick whatever I want to eat for a special occasion (or just, you know, for dinner on a Tuesday).
The good news about my love of bread and cheese is that spring and summer, however slowly, are surely working their way towards us. Summer around here means a lot of time spent outdoors, whether it be riding bikes, playing baseball, or heading downtown for a waterfront picnic (a trip most likely taken on a bike…after playing a game of baseball). Picnics, I believe I’ve mentioned before, are one of my most favorite things in the entire world. In fact, second only to my love of picnics would be the act of choosing what to take on a picnic, a task I find endlessly pleasing and—dare I admit it—exciting.
At this point I feel as though I’ve got picnic packing down to a science. Picnics are best eaten sans silverware, though we have been known to pack a vinegary potato salad or herby pasta dish from time to time. For the most part, however, our picnics are strictly finger food affairs, and are comprised of nuts, fruits, sometimes small slivers of meats, and, of course, bread and cheese. The bread is nearly always a baguette, but the cheese varies according to whatever we have on hand, or whatever I’ve spotted in the cheese case at the market and fallen in love with (because, yeah, I really really like cheese). While last summer’s picnic cheeses seemed to lean more towards the category of being firm and sliceable, I have a feeling that the upcoming summer’s picnic cheese will be a strictly spreadable affair. That is, the cheese in question will be this marinated goat cheese, because it is my most favorite cheese at the moment and I don’t see any signs of it budging from its position in the top spot.
Making this marinated cheese could not be simpler. It also could not be more adaptable, and, as the seasons change, I imagine I will be changing up the formula quite a bit, just to see what happens. My most recent version, the one seen here, involves toasted spices, a bit of heat, and a generous bunch of rosemary. It is utterly fantastic, and I have spent the better part of a week spreading it on bread, folding it into eggs, and scooping it onto crackers. I imagine it would also be great crumbled onto a tomato salad, and as the weather warms I plan on doing just that, as well as changing up the composition of the marinade to include some tarragon instead of rosemary, shallots in addition to the garlic, maybe a slip of lemon zest, and perhaps even some balsamic vinegar to accompany the olive oil. Until the warm weather arrives, I’ll be experimenting with this recipe and preparing for as many picnics as I can.
Marinated Goat Cheese
This cheese marinates in olive oil while in the refrigerator, which causes the olive oil to harden as it cools. It may look odd, but it poses no threat to the olive oil or the cheese. To bring the oil back to room temperature, simply run the jar under hot water for 15 to 20 seconds. The olive oil will almost immediately turn back into a liquid.
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns, preferably a mix of colors and flavors (I used green, black, and pink)
2 dried red chiles
8 ounces goat cheese
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
extra-virgin olive oil
In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, heat the fennel seeds, peppercorns, and dried chiles until they just begin to pop and their aroma begins to release. Remove spices to a plate or bowl and set aside to cool.
Roll the goat cheese, 1 tablespoon at a time, into small balls. Place balls of cheese in a jar that will allow room for all the cheese, plus flavorings (I used a 14-ounce jar and it was a nearly perfect, albeit slightly tight, fit). To the jar, add the cooled peppercorns, fennel, and chiles. Add the garlic cloves. Very slightly twist the rosemary sprigs in your hands to bruise them and release some of their oils, then add them to the jar, along with the bay leaves. Fill the jar with olive oil to cover everything.
Cover the jar tightly, then allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days before eating. Cheese will keep for 1 week, in the refrigerator, tightly covered.