“On the table, under a wooden bowl to protect it from hungry rats and cats alike, sits a perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves. Prim’s gift to me on reaping day. I put the cheese carefully in my pocket as I slip outside… [Later,] Gale spreads the bread slices with the soft goat cheese, carefully placing a basil leaf on each while I strip the bushes of their berries.” – The Hunger Games
Historically, the very freshest cheeses, those too young to have rinds, were frequently wrapped in leaves of various sorts. The leaves themselves served to protect the interior paste from hazards of the environment (such as bugs and debris) as well as helped to retain moisture. Today, they are for the most part used for aesthetics and in some cases, such as this one, to impart subtle flavors.
There were a few challenges when making this goat cheese. First, I had pasteurized milk from the store, not the rich and creamy raw milk straight from the farm, as Prim would have used. The second issue was the addition of an acid to make the cheese curdle. I used lemon juice the first time, and although I experimented with several other options, none tasted as good to me as that lemon version. So, while vinegar or buttermilk also work, the lemon makes for the best taste. Of the three, I think Prim would have used buttermilk, since it could also come from the goat, and wouldn’t require trading for other ingredients. And while rennet is often added to even simple goat cheeses, the Everdeens are a very poor family in a very poor district. Because of that, I’ve opted for this very basic recipe that uses a minimum of ingredients.
It results in a very soft, flavorful cheese that is easy to spread, and delicious. The basil flavors, if you choose to go that route, seep into the cheese, giving it a subtle herb flavor. I enjoyed it as in the book: on fresh bread, with the basil leaves, but it’s also great with apples, on salad, and any other way you can think.
Recipe for Simple Goat Cheese
- 1 quart goat’s milk (pasteurized is fine, but don’t use ultra-pasteurized)
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- salt to taste
- several bunches of large-leafed basil
You’ll also need:
- a sauce pot, preferably stainless steel
- Strainer or colander
- string or rubberband
- round cookie or biscuit cutter
Pour the goats milk into the sauce pot. Turn on the heat, and put the thermometer into the milk. When it’s reached about 180F, turn off the heat, and pour in the lemon juice/vinegar and salt. Stir gently to combine, then let sit and cool for around 15 minutes.
While the milk is sitting, stretch the cheesecloth over the strainer, and set over another deep bowl or pot. When it’s ready, pour the milk mixture into the prepared cheesecloth, letting the liquid drain into the container below. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth together, and secure with string. Hang this bundled cheese over a bowl for at least 2 hours or overnight, until all the liquid has drained out.
At this point, your cheese is done, and you can form it into a ball or log. To wrap it in basil leaves, follow these steps:
Pick the largest basil leaves off the bunch. Arrange these inside the round cookie cutter, with their stem ends together; they should overlap somewhat. Spoon in scoops of cheese, pressing them into the round shape. Wrap the ends of the basil leaves up over the cheese, securing them with a small blob of extra cheese, if necessary.