Opposites Attract

Baru 66’s recipe for classic warmed goat cheese salad gets the details right, allowing the funkiness of the cheese and the freshness of the greens to shine.

Writer: Wini Moranville
Photographer: Duane Tinkey

When done well, a classic warmed goat cheese salad—salade de chèvre chaud—can be astonishing. Crisp toasts with semi-melted goat cheese served with a tangle of vibrant lettuces make for an irresistible example of opposites complementing each other. It’s all about the interplay of rich, funky, complex semi-aged goat cheese hooking up with the perky, fresh and simple greens.

Why, then, are so many goat cheese salads such huge disappointments? Even when I travel to the dish’s ancestral homeland of France, I rarely order it anymore—so few restaurants do them well. Happily, here in Des Moines, there’s an exception: David Baruthio, chef-owner of Baru 66, does an exemplary version, and whenever I spot it on his menu (which often changes), I order it.

Recently, I cajoled my way into his kitchen, where he showed me, step by step, how to make this classic. Served with a little charcuterie, the salad is a perfect way to put those local farmers market greens to good use for a light summer supper. Pair it with just about any white wine from the Loire Valley, where goat cheese salad is a regional favorite.

Salade de Chèvre Chaud // Warmed Goat Cheese Salad

Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (Baru 66 uses a 50-50 blend of classic Dijon mustard and stone-ground Dijon mustard)

1 tablespoon honey

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons hazelnut oil

16 (1/3-inch-thick) slices of day-old baguette

16 (1/3-inch-thick) slices semi-ripened goat cheese
(about 12 ounces total)*

6 cups tender mixed greens

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, lightly salted

Thinly sliced radishes, for garnish

Dill sprigs, for garnish

For the vinaigrette, whisk the vinegar, mustard, honey, and salt and pepper together. Whisk in the hazelnut oil until combined; set aside.

Toast both sides of the baguette slices in a toaster oven or under the broiler until crisp and golden brown. Brush one side of each toast with olive oil and lightly season with salt. Place the toasts, oiled side up, on a baking sheet. Top with goat cheese slices. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly golden in spots, lightly melted toward the rinds and warm—but still firm—in the center. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

Place the greens in a salad bowl and toss with all but about 1 tablespoon of the dressing, adding a little salt to taste as you toss. Divide the greens among four salad plates. Top each with four cheese toasts. Scatter the pine nuts and radish slices over all, and top each with a dill sprig. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the salad (but not on the goat cheese). Serve immediately.

* Note: Goat cheeses come in a variety of shapes—such as bells, logs and pyramids. If needed, cut the goat cheese to fit on top of the baguette slice without any cheese hanging over.

Tips From the Chef

As with many of the world’s culinary classics, the difference between so-so and sublime is all in the details. Here are chef David Baruthio’s tips for making this salad everything it should be:

Choose the right goat cheese. “Fresh goat cheese doesn’t melt,” says Baruthio, so skip the rindless (unaged) goat cheese found in plastic tubes in the supermarket. Go to a committed cheese counter such as Whole Foods or The Cheese Shop of Des Moines and ask for a semi-ripened goat cheese that has a rind that’s fuzzy or wrinkled (known as “bloomy” in cheese-speak).

Use a day-old baguette. “If your bread is too fresh, it will absorb the oil,” Baruthio says. “That will make your toasts chewy, rather than crispy.”

Avoid over-melting the cheese. “It should be soft and melted near the rind, but still a little firm in the middle,” Baruthio advises. “Otherwise, the cheese will run off the toast.”

Refresh the salad. Even if you buy prewashed lettuces, Baruthio recommends rinsing the leaves and drying them well. They’ll perk up and taste fresher that way.

Dress and season the salad well. “The French call a poorly seasoned salad ‘rabbit food,’ ” Baruthio says. To avoid serving rabbit food, toss the dressing with the salad so that each leaf is coated. Add a little salt at the tossing stage for extra flavor and a touch of texture. After plating the salad, drizzle a touch more of the dressing over the greens just before serving.

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