I am not a fan of smoked cheese. I don’t like smoked provolone, smoked cheddar is just unnecessary, and I gag over the weird yellow dappling that smoking mozzarella brings about. Therefore, I didn’t expect to like Elk Creamery’s Smoked Chèvre. But I bought it anyway. I have an open mind and an open palate, and I was intrigued by this fairly new (to me) offering from the Mendocino-based cheesemakers.

Smoked with organic alderwood and applewood on the Elk Creamery goat farm, the cheese smells like an entire side of St. Louis ribs AND a safely contained Brownie campfire. I had absolutely no desire to eat this tangy, smoky cheese raw, on crackers or on anything else, but my esteemed colleague, Head Cheese, brilliantly suggested I find some way of cooking with it. Pizza seemed to be the answer. A vegetarian pizza, to be precise; no need for any meats to add to the rich flavors the smoke was already bringing to the party.

After grabbing some Trader Joe’s whole wheat ready-to-roll-and-bake pizza dough, a couple of veggies, and sloshing up some roasted tomato sauce, I was ready to build my pizza. The result was surprising. I was fully expecting to hate the cheese even in this iteration, but the combination of the spicy tomato sauce, the sweetly caramelized fennel, and the woodsy asparagus all managed, not to repel the smoked chévre, but to embrace it and welcome it into the pizza as just another flavorful topping.

2 heads of fennel
3-4 olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe pizza dough
1 cup tomato sauce, bought or homemade and cooled
1/3 cup slivered asparagus
1 ounce Elk Creamery Smoked Chèvre, chilled

1. Preheat your oven to 475°. Slice the fennel thinly and place it in a large roasting pan. Toss the slivers with the olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast until slightly caramelized for about 10 minutes. Set aside.

2. Flour a pizza peel and douse it with a handful of cornmeal. The cornmeal will act as ball bearings when you slide your pizza into the oven. Roll the dough into a 12-inch round and ladle on the tomato sauce. Spread it evenly around the dough and evenly distribute the roasted fennel slivers and asparagus on top of the sauce.

3. Using a vegetable peeler, shave thin curls of Elk Creamery Smoked Chèvre over the pizza. Slide the pizza into the oven — preferably on a heated pizza stone — and bake for 10-12 minutes.

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