The best way to choose cheese at a cheese shop is to ask the fromager for advice. This is how I end up with new favorites all the time. Believe it or not, there are seasons for cheese, just like for fruit and vegetables.
Recently, my cheesemonger recommended a Gour Noir. “It’s in season now,” he said. He went on to explain that goat cheese is usually best in the late spring and summer because that’s when the goats have their babies. I also learned that they graze in high mountain pastures at this time of year. Their more diverse diet (compared to wintertime) helps give the cheese more flavor and makes it creamier.
So, what’s a Gour Noir? It’s a goat cheese made from raw goat’s milk with a charcoal-colored outside and a smooth, creamy inside. I like its original shape, that of a leaf. This particular cheese hasn’t been around for very long, only for a little over twenty years. In the early 1990s, Monsieur Arnaud, a fromager from the Limousin region in central France, began making it. I had assumed it was called Gour Noir because of the color, but apparently, it was named after the hamlet where the Arnaud family lived, “Roc du Gour Noir.” And why is it black, I wondered? The unique color comes from the use of “sel cendré” during the cheese-making process. “Sel cendré” is a combination of salt and charcoal powder that is often used to salt French goat cheeses. This practice helps protect and preserve the cheese.
We particularly like the Gour Noir, but can’t find it just anywhere. Under 200 pieces are produced per week and they’re for sale in specialty cheese shops around France. We get ours from the Fromagerie Beillevaire and have only eaten the younger, milder version. When aged a bit longer, this chèvre becomes stronger in taste and much drier in texture. Since I consider the Gour Noir to be the perfect dessert, it’s very unlikely that we’ll let it sit around that long.