When other kids were begging their parents for Happy Meals, Amanda Simcoe was dreaming of goat cheese croquettes.

"My mother thought it was nuts. I was 5 years old and craving them," she said.

Her first taste of goat cheese came from the now-closed Capistrano's in Utica Square where delicate rounds of goat cheese were breaded, fried and placed on top of greens. It was the best thing this 5-year-old had ever tasted.

"I remember saying, 'What is this?' and she explained to me it was goat cheese, that it was made from a different kind of milk," Simcoe said.

From then on, goat cheese became her cheese of choice.

"A salad with a goat cheese croquette is still one of my favorites. I have to put the greens under there so I don't feel bad eating a big ball of fried cheese," she said.

Goat cheese isn't necessarily a seasonal cheese, but if it were, summer would be its prime time. Cool and creamy, goat cheese is good on a salad, spread on crostini, stuffed in dates or fruit halves or eaten just as it is.

Perhaps no one in Tulsa knows more about goat cheese than Simcoe, the self-proclaimed Cheese Wench, who ran the cheese counter at the now-closed Grocer and the Gourmet and continues a blog about her cheese pursuits. You can find it at tulsaworld.com/cheesewench

Simcoe knows where to find the best varieties of goat cheese in Tulsa - La Donna's Fancy Foods on 15th Street and Whole Foods in Brookside - but she also knows where to order the best varieties from independent farms across the country.

More than simply ordering from them, Simcoe has visited several such farms, petting the goats and watching the process of her favorite cheese being made.

"There's a reason we go to Northern California every year. It's not just to see San Francisco. I travel to places with good cheese," she said.

Simcoe often cooks with goat cheese but says some types are too good for cooking.

One of her favorites is called Purple Haze, a goat cheese covered in lavender flowers and fennel pollen made by Cypress Grove Chevre in Arcata, Calif. It's available at La Donna's.

"It is divine. When people ask me, 'What do you eat this with?' I tell them, 'A fork,' " she said.

With a cheese that good, simple is best.

"On occasion, I'll roast a Cornish hen, and in the last few minutes of cooking, I'll shove the cheese up the back end. Then, when you cut into it, it's warm and so good," she said.

For a firmer textured goat cheese, like the Spanish garrotxa, Simcoe recommends eating it with whole almonds.

Less firm goat cheese gives an interesting taste to homemade pizza. One of Simcoe's favorite Tulsa restaurant foods is the grilled flatbread with fig, goat cheese and truffle oil from Lucky's on 15th Street.

This month, she will teach several classes at the Stock Pot on cheese and cheese making. Some classes will include other cheeses, like mozzarella and Gouda, but all will include her first love - the goat.


Cheese classes

All about the goat

Sample farm-fresh goat milk, yogurt, kefir and goat's milk cheeses from around the world. 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Stock Pot. Class is $45 per person.

Basic cheese making

Learn to make soft cheeses, including fresh mozzarella, ricotta, mascarpone and goat cheese. Cost of class includes a kit with supplies to make 30 batches of cheese at home. 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Stock Pot. Class is $60 per person.

Classes will take place at the Stock Pot, 7223 E. 41st St. Call 627-1146 to register.


Recipes

A favorite recipe of Amanda Simcoe's, this salad uses Bermuda Triangle, a soft-ripened goat cheese made by Cypress Grove Chevre in California. It can occasionally be found at Whole Foods and more often at La Donna's Fancy Foods.

STRAWBERRY SPINACH SALAD WITH BALSAMIC-STOUT REDUCTION

Balsamic Stout Reduction

1 cup balsamic vinegar

1 ½ cups stout beer (such as O'Hara's Irish Stout or Guinness Extra Stout)

⅓ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar. Cook over medium heat until reduced by half. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Salad

5 cups fresh spinach, washed and patted dry

1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced

6 slices of Cypress Grove's Bermuda Triangle goat cheese

½ medium red onion, sliced

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Divide spinach among six plates. Top with strawberries and sliced onion. Drizzle with Balsamic Stout Reduction. Finish with sliced goat cheese, salt and pepper.

The following recipes come from the Chavrie goat cheese company. You can find Chavrie at most any grocery store.

CUCUMBER AND AVOCADO SOUP

1 (5.3-ounce) package Chavrie goat cheese

3 seedless cucumbers (peeled and cubed)

2 ripe avocados

¼ cup unsweetened coconut milk

Juice from 3 limes

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon Tabasco

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

Salt and pepper to season

1. Split the avocado in half, remove the pit and scoop pulp into a blender. Add cucumber pieces. Puree until smooth.

2. Add coconut milk, lime juice, cumin, Tabasco, ginger and goat cheese; blend well. Season with salt and pepper. Chill well before serving.

TROPICAL FRUIT SALAD

Serves 4 to 6

1 (7-ounce) can pineapple chunks, drained

1 (4-ounce) can mandarin orange segments, drained

1 (7-ounce) can tropical fruit salad, drained

2 ounces coconut milk

1 (5.3-ounce) package Chavrie goat cheese

¼ cup toasted coconut for garnish

1. Mix all ingredients together, omitting the coconut, and place in a serving dish. Chill. Sprinkle toasted coconut over the top.

WALDORF SALAD WITH GOAT CHEESE

2 Red Delicious apples

1 stalk celery

½ teaspoon lemon juice

1 (5.3-ounce) package Chavrie goat cheese

½ cup walnut pieces

1. Core and dice apples. Dice celery.

2. Mix apples, celery and lemon juice with goat cheese. Serve on a bed of lettuce and top with walnut pieces.


Natalie Mikles 581-8486

natalie.mikles@tulsaworld.com SUBHEAD: Self-proclaimed Cheese Wench shares her passion and the pursuit

Original Print Headline: Crazy about goat cheese