GianMarco's Crusted Alabama Goat Cheese Salad
Award winning Belle Chevre artisanal cheeses make Birmingham menus.
By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
Real Food is a new column that debuted last month. It supports Birmingham's convivium of the international Slow Food movement. In a pecan shell, Slow Food is the opposite of fast food. It is grown or produced locally and arrives fresh, full of flavor.
“We chefs want to use more local products that will support the growers and producers but also the Southern food traditions of Alabama,” member of the movement Giani Respinto explains. Respinto, his brother Marco, and father Giovanni, own and operate GianMarco—a popular, upscale Italian restaurant in Homewood. “Alabama goat cheese Belle Chevre is available year round. And it is used in our Almond and Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese over Baby Arugula and Watermelon Carpaccio.”
Located in Elkmont, Alabama, Fromagerie Belle Chevre creamery has produced a variety of fine artisanal chevres since 1989, using time-tested European farmstead techniques. The cheeses have won numerous awards from the American Cheese Society and American Dairy Association and have made their way into the kitchens of several local restaurant kitchens including GianMarco’s.
Alabama native and owner of Belle Chevre, Tasia Malakasis first discovered Belle Chevre while shopping at Dean & Deluca’s flagship store in New York City. "It was fateful, I believe, that out of all of the grand cheeses in that store I would pick up one from a creamery that is just 20 miles from my home in Alabama,” Malakasis recalls. “And it was love at first bite.”
Malakasis' passion for food and love affair with Belle Chevre eventually led her to give up a successful career in high tech marketing software. “This fabulous cheese haunted me for a couple of years until I finally began to court the owner and founder [Liz Parnell] about making cheese,” she recalls. “I didn't want to be one of these people who said, ‘Eventually I want to...’ but never make ‘eventually’ become a reality. So I quit my job in Philadelphia and called Liz. I told her I wanted to learn her business and work with her, even if it was for free.”
After learning to make cheese and traveling with Parnell to food shows, Malakasis acquired the creamery in January 2007. Parnell agreed to stay on for the next several years to help transition the business smoothly. Malakasis wants to make this hand-made artisan cheese more accessible to cheese lovers and make cheese lovers out of those who have yet to discover the product. “I hope that the people in Alabama will discover this cheese as those in New York City and California do, and be proud that it is made and available here in Alabama.” Belle Chevre cheeses are available locally at Piggly Wiggly, Tria Market, and Whole Foods.
Birmingham Restaurants Recipe: GianMarco
Almond and Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese over Baby Arugula and Watermelon Carpaccio
4 two-ounce pieces of Belle Chevre, sliced from eight-ounce log of Montrachet style logs
1 small seedless watermelon, quartered, rind removed and thinly sliced
.25 cup of sliced almonds, ground
.25 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 large eggs, beaten
1 small bunch baby arugula, washed and dried
.25 cup shelled natural pistachios, ground
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
Place goat cheese slices in egg wash, and turn to coat each slice completely. Mix nuts in a shallow dish. Remove goat cheese slices one at a time and coat with nuts. Place slices on a baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake.
Whisk oil, vinegar and mustard in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake cheese until golden brown but not oozing. Remove from oven. To serve, pinwheel three slices of watermelon on each serving plate. Toss arugula with vinaigrette and arrange on watermelon, dividing slices evenly among plates. Top each with baked goat cheese. Serve immediately. Yield: Four servings.