Goat cheese has a strong culinary profile all its own, while also offering more protein, fewer calories and less fat than traditional cream cheese (which it’s often compared to). Maybe it’s the tangy richness, or maybe it’s a health consideration—whatever the reason, local restaurants are embracing goat cheese in innovative ways.
The ingredient, often limited to salads in the past, is now starring at every stage of the meal in dishes both sweet and savory. With flavors this bold, these creative uses of goat cheese could permanently dethrone the standard cow’s milk options. Three Seventy Common Kitchen & Drink chef-owner Ryan Adams notes that the wide range of types available now may be contributing to its popularity.
“The farmers who produce goat cheese are taking more risks these days by producing different styles of cheese, so with the variety of options available, it makes goat cheese much more versatile,” he says. “For instance, I’ve seen goat Parmesan, goat cheddar and soft-ripened goat cheese. Also, by them producing these different styles, it has softened the tartness of standard goat cheese, making it more palatable for people who may not have been too fond of it in the first place.”
Goat Cheese Maple Ice Cream
Nirvana Grille’s executive chef and co-owner, Lindsay Smith-Rosales, uses goat cheese throughout her menu, from the goat cheese Yukon gold mashed potatoes to cauliflower goat cheese gratin. While many offerings rotate seasonally, the house-made goat cheese maple ice cream is a year-round staple. In addition to the flavor of dissolved cheese throughout, the maple-sweetened ice cream features bits of it for texture. It’s available a la carte, with the trio sampler and with the Grand Marnier-glazed seasonal fruit; one of her favorites is fig. In fact, she created the dessert when trying to come up with ways to use the plethora of figs picked from the tree in her backyard.
“First we did it with vanilla ice cream and it wasn’t enough,” she says. “With the goat cheese … it was just out of the park.” (949-497-0027; nirvanagrille.com)
Goat Cheese Dip
When people think of warm, creamy cheese for dipping crackers and other accompaniments, brie is often top of mind. But at Sapphire Laguna, chef-owner Azmin Ghahreman mixes it up with an offering of goat cheese served with grilled sourdough bread from an artisanal baker. The dish, one of the restaurant’s top sellers, is a strong representation of the chef’s internationally inspired cuisine: The luscious cheese is topped with mojo verde, a mix of cumin, fresh herbs, garlic and sea salt, as well as a drizzle of high-quality French extra-virgin olive oil, sliced Spanish pickled garlic and Greek olives.
Azmin notes that it’s perfect for sharing, especially over drinks. “It goes great with a glass of white wine, rose, red wine or a good beer,” he says. “It is a comfortable dish … you can put it out for your friends and have them taste.” (949-715-9888; sapphirellc.com)
Shishito poppers are Three Seventy Common Kitchen & Drink’s innovative answer to the popular stuffed pepper. More specifically, Ryan says the dish is a “riff on a traditional chili relleno.” Shishito peppers are filled with fresh, local goat cheese as well as goat cheddar sourced from Sonoma before they are tempura-battered (dredged in eggs, water and flour) and deep-fried.
They’re served with harissa tomato chutney and creamy garlic aioli, both made in-house. “The cheese works so well in this dish with its slightly grassy taste and good melting qualities,” Ryan says. (949-494-8686; 370common.com)
Fried Goat Cheese
Few savory foods are as tempting as fried cheese. At Watermarc, chef-owner Marc Cohen offers an elevated “grazing plate” version crafted with goat cheese. After being rolled into a ball, it’s tossed into a bit of flour, egg and buttermilk, and then fried until it has a perfectly golden brown, crispy exterior. The warm bundles are served with colorful baby McIntosh, Granny Smith and red apples diced together with a little lemon juice, and then clover honey is drizzled on top for a touch of syrupy sweetness. “You get the cold with the hot and the sweet with the crunchy all in your mouth at the same time,” Marc says. “It is really just a wonderful mixture of flavors and textures.” (949-376-6272; watermarcrestaurant.com)
Goat Cheese Panna Cotta
Driftwood Kitchen offers classically prepared panna cotta with a modern twist: Goat’s milk replaces cow’s milk, the traditional ingredient. Smooth and creamy, it has a consistency that’s similar to loose creme brulee. Customarily served as a dessert, the panna cotta is one component of a small plate salad that also includes roasted baby beets, pistachios, pumpernickel croutons and fresh, floral lavender.
Executive Chef Rainer Schwarz says that he chose to use goat’s rather than cow’s milk for a unique approach to the traditional recipe—the flavor also pairs especially well with the beets. While the silky texture feels indulgent, the overall dish is light and refreshing; it’s perfect for lunch, or as a starter for dinner.
The salad isn’t usually served at this time of year, but is available as a special throughout September. (949-715-7700; driftwoodkitchen.com)
—Written by Katherine Duncan and Matt Valdez | Photos by Jody Tiongco