Too few restaurants include cheese menus these days, so when we visited Le Garage in Hampden (our Best New Restaurant of 2014) intending to dine on just frites and beer and discovered that they serve small plates with various cheeses and garnishes, we were relieved that at least a French (and Belgian) place hasn't forgotten dairy's most divine incarnation. After turning down Dunbarton Blue with wet walnuts and Taleggio with pepper honey, we chose Crottin with balsamic apricots ($6). The plate included a generous serving of baguette crisps that was disproportionate to the tiny Crottin wedge, hardly bigger than one of the apricots. We didn't bother spreading the cheese on the crisps: The wedge probably wouldn't cover more than three. Restaurants usually disappoint us with their cheese stinginess, so at least we weren't surprised—although our disappointment grew when we experienced the marvelousness of the bite-size wedge.
Made from goat's milk at Charlottetown Farm, a family-run goat farm in Freeland, Maryland, the cheese was like the brie of goat cheese—more cream than velvet, unlike most chevres. Crottin is a traditional French product made in dainty, compact rounds: the perfect picnic cheese. As spreadable as it is forkable, Crottin is one of the more versatile dairy confections. The soft rind opens to a wrinkled black border, like a mushroom, over the soft-ripened interior. With a sweet nuttiness and faint peppery notes, the cheese melts slowly in your mouth like dense chocolate, smooth against the fuzzy skin of the tart, sticky apricots. It tastes the way an old city feels, rich and complex with a connection to the earth through time, as natural as rock formations, with a rind like notches in a cobblestone road and the warmth of the sun. Despite its quaint size, the cheese feels monumental, like a 16th-century cathedral or an Ikea store, wherein worlds of flavors, patterns, and aromas await to take hold of your soul.