November 7, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
Baked goat cheese salad using fresh Laura Chenel goat cheese
Alice Waters didn’t invent the baked goat cheese salad, as it’s been a French bistro mainstay for decades. She did, however, bring it to America — or at least to California — where she and her staff labored for years to refine it. Barbara Neyers was one of them.
The ingredients are key to success here, so I was especially pleased last week when Barbara reported that our ‘late planted’ summer garden had given up the last of its squash, peppers, and tomatoes, but there was still a good ‘bowl’s worth’ of mixed lettuces. She planned to make goat cheese salad. During the early days of her tenure at Chez Panisse, Barbara was a ‘salad station’ cook in the cafe, so she did everything from shucking fresh oysters, to making the soup, to dressing and arranging the salads. This latter job was of special importance to Alice.
No dish required more attention than the goat cheese salad that had quickly become a customer favorite. Barbara made hundreds of them. It’s a seemingly simple dish, but a difficult one to master, and on a busy evening getting it right for the diners who order it is not easy. It is among the most ‘wine friendly’ dishes I know, however, and over the years I’ve come to especially enjoy it with Pinot Noir. The version that Barbara makes for us at home is entrée-sized, so I immediately thought of two wines that I wanted to taste, side by side.
We make two bottlings of Pinot Noir at Neyers — one from grapes grown by the Sangiacomo Family at their Petaluma Gap ranch on ‘Roberts Road’. The other is from Russian River grapes grown by Chuy Ordaz on land named for his daughter Placida. The parcels that we buy have in common the fact that they are planted to non-clonal budwood that was taken from the Joe Swan vineyard in Forestville. This budwood was brought directly to California from Burgundy in the mid-1960s, and was neither heat-treated nor cloned. There is a certain purity to it as ‘Selection Massale’ plant material. After 30 years of working with Kermit and his group of Burgundian producers, I have come to think of the ‘Roberts Road’ Pinot Noir as more closely resembling a wine from Gevrey, while the wine from Chuy’s vineyard I liken more to Aloxe-Corton.
Barbara made a large platter of goat cheese salad — see the recipe below — and I opened the 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’. Next to it I served a 2017 Corton Grand Cru from one of my favorite producers, Franck Follin of Domaine Follin-Arbelet in Aloxe-Corton. Franck is married to a great-granddaughter of Louis Latour, and is enormously talented. No one in Burgundy makes better Corton. His wines are the work of a bona fide genius.
How was the Placida Pinot Noir? I adored the way it went with the rich vinaigrette tossed with the flavorful lettuces and croutons sautéed in olive oil. The crunchy goat cheese discs — saturated as they were with bread crumbs — were a good foil as well. It was a great wine and food fit. I still have several bottles of Franck’s Corton in my cellar, and I think I’ll devote some of my remaining life to drinking them alongside Chuy’s Pinot Noir. I loved them both.
We still have some of the 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ available. It is impressive Pinot Noir.
The parcel of Placida Pinot Noir planted to Joe Swan budwood selection
Goat Cheese Salad
- 1 8-ounce fresh goat cheese log
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 3/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
- 8 cups loosely packed lettuce leaves
- 8 croutons
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Slice goat cheese into 1/2-inch thick discs. Drizzle each disc with olive oil, then coat both sides with breadcrumbs.
Whisk together shallots, mustard and vinegar, then slowly whisk in the olive oil.
Lightly brown goat cheese on both sides in olive oil. I prefer to sauté the cheese but at Chez Panisse they frequently broil it in the oven.
Toss lettuce leaves with vinaigrette to lightly coat with dressing, then season with salt and pepper. Immediately top with the lettuce, garnish with croutons, then top with warm goat cheese discs.