For those of you who love goat cheese, this one is not to be missed! Crottin de Chavignol is a classic when it comes to goat cheeses. (You can always judge the popularity of a cheese by the number of imitations, and Crottin de Chavignol has many look- alikes. In all fairness, there are some excellent cheeses that use "Crottin" as part or all of the name.)

The name deserves a bit of further explanation. Crottin has a somewhat unsavory meaning in French. It basically means road apple, or a bit of animal doo-doo. I have heard 2 explanations for the name. The first describes what the cheese looks like when it is well aged. An older example of Crottin de Chavignol is brown and very hard, much like a road apple that has spent weeks in the sun. The second explanation concerns the cheese's small size which resembles the size of your average road apple. Chavignol is the name of a small town just south of Paris on the Loire river in France where the cheese is produced. Thus the literal translation--road apple from Chavignol. Sounds inviting.

But despite the lack of a slick marketing name, Crottin de Chavignol is extraordinary. It is classed among the greatest French cheeses and even protected by the strict Appellation Controlee laws to prevent frauds. Crottin de Chavignol is a small cheese, weighing between 5 and 2 oz, depending on the age. The cheese starts as a very white cheese and then turns yellow with a light blue mold and eventually brown (which is rarely seen in this country). As the cheese ages, it becomes increasingly sharp and pungent. Even when young though, it does not lack flavor.

When eaten simply with bread, it is often paired with a wine made in the same region as the cheese: Sancerre. Sancerre, made from the sauvignon blanc grape, is a dry steely wine with grassy overtones. Another classic combination is a salad comprised of: warm Crottin de chavignol, bacon or lardons, frisee salad greens, garlic rubbed croutons and a simple red wine vinegar and oil vinaigrette. It's absolutely divine!