Sunday, May 27, 2007
Georges, the goat cheese genius
At our house the word "Georges" is pronounced with the same reverence that others might reserve for "God."
Georges gives me reason to get up in the morning. On Saturdays, he gives me reason to get up especially early, by 7am without fail.
I first heard of Georges about a year ago, around the same time that I first met Franck Cerutti, chef at the Louis XV in Monaco. After introducing me to his favorite producers, Franck invited me to peek into the back of his small refrigerated van, where a couple of dozen plastic trays were stacked on top of each other.
"I have some extraordinary goat cheese," he said. "Would you like some?"
One taste and I was hooked. I had never tasted a goat cheese so fresh and pure, with not the slightest hint of goatiness. It didn't stick to the palate but caressed the tongue. It made me think of spring flowers and cool mountain air. I knew that somehow, whatever it took, I had to secure a regular supply.
"I don't think I can eat any other cheese," I said to Franck. "How can I get my hands on this?"
He laughed. "I'll have to introduce you to Georges."
A couple of Saturdays later a meeting was arranged at 7.30am in a café near the market. At first, Georges was a little skeptical. Who was this Canadian who thought she was entitled to his cheese? I fell on my knees (well, almost). I confessed that all other cheeses had lost their appeal. And Georges told me his story.
He came to the south of France at age 16 from Portugal to work on a goat cheese farm for the summer. While he was there, the farmer had a mishap with one of his beehives. He was stung so many times that he nearly died, and stayed in the hospital for three weeks. Young Georges had to take over. Upon his return, the farmer thanked him by giving him two goats. Georges knew he had found his vocation.
At that time, in the 1970s, France was reluctant to accept more Portuguese immigrants. But the bureaucrats at the préfecture found they couldn't bring themselves to say no to this young foreigner who loved goats, and eventually Georges married a Frenchwoman.
He has supplied many of the top restaurants on the Côte d'Azur but now sells only to Franck and to a passionate fromager at the Forville market in Cannes. And to me. After that meeting in the café, we agreed that each week he would put aside five little round cheeses for me. Some weeks they are fresh and almost fluffy in texture, some weeks they are developing blue spots on the rind and starting to turn creamy inside. His cheeses become creamy just under the rind, collapsing into a runny mass when they are really ripe.
Georges prefers them fresh, but Franck likes them shrunken with a blue crust, which he believes concentrates the essence of the cheese. It amazes Georges that anyone wants to eat them that way, let alone sell them in a three-Michelin-star restaurant. Fresh, runny or blue, what I love most about this cheese is that it feels like one of the healthiest things I could put into my body. That's not something I think very often about cheese.
When I told Georges I like to eat the fresher cheeses for breakfast with chestnut honey and figs, he looked so horrified that I thought my supply might be cut off. Georges is a cheese purist, which might explain why his cheese tastes so unadulterated. Between late November and March he stops producing cheese entirely to allow the goats to follow their natural cycle. He has never been able to explain to me what makes his cheeses so special, but I plan to find out by visiting his farm one of these days.
I serve Georges' cheese as often as I can in my cooking classes, always with the hope that students will share my cheese epiphany. I haven't been disappointed yet.