Last time, I covered sheep’s milk cheeses. Now let’s talk goats. Goats are one of the oldest domesticated animals, producing about two percent of the world’s annual milk supply. Although goat’s milk cheeses have been around for thousands of years, many people often assume that there is only one type of goat’s milk cheese—chèvre—and leave it at that. Oh, how they are mistaken!
Some people who are lactose sensitive tolerate goat’s milk better than cow’s milk, even though the lactose levels are about the same. Compared to cow’s and sheep’s milk, goat’s milk is the least fatty—but that doesn’t mean that it lacks flavor! In fact, goat’s milk and cheese made from goat’s milk is known for its characteristic tart flavor.
With other types of milk, such as cow’s milk, the cream naturally separates from the milk, rising to the top. Homogenizing the milk breaks down the fats for a more consistent product. Goat’s milk, on the other hand, starts out with small fat globules, which means the cream doesn’t rise to the top, and therefore, it doesn’t need to be homogenized. In fact, if the goat’s milk is going to be used for cheesemaking, it shouldn’t be homogenized, as it would change the structure of the milk and negatively affect the quality of the cheese.
Just like sheep, any female goat (doe) that has kidded produces milk. Some goat breeds, such as LaManchas and Nigerians, are better milk producers than others. But all does will produce milk to feed their kids. Now that we’ve touched on some the properties of goat’s milk, let’s talk about some of killer cheeses it makes. Here are a few great goat’s milk cheeses from around the world, along with some rocking pairings.
First up, France—the Loire Valley makes some gems. One of my favorites is bûcheron, a soft, semi-firm cheese that features a bloomy white rind. It starts out with a mild flavor that becomes sharper as the cheese matures. Its flavor isn’t the only characteristic that evolves as it ages. The texture of bûcheron becomes firmer, although the interior remains creamy and can even be gooey when brought to room temperature.
Pairing Suggestion: Bûcheron stands up well with hearty breads; paired with a crisp viogner, it makes a wonderful combo.
Another notable goat’s milk cheese is brunost, a rich, brown Scandinavian favorite. In the US, it is marketed at gjetost (literal translation from Norwegian: “goat cheese”). Although most brunost we find here is exported from Norway, it’s also popular in Sweden, Iceland and Denmark.
Brunost begins by boiling milk, cream and whey until the liquid evaporates. This process caramelizes the sugars in the milk, resulting in the cheese’s characteristic richness. Brunost has a decidedly unique nose that some describe as “fishy.” The caramel notes are apparent, but so is the pungent “barnyard” odor of the goat’s milk. Its dense, fudgy texture is very thick on the tongue, so brunost is best served in light curls from a cheese plane. A big chunk would be just too much—like a heaping spoonful of ice-cold peanut butter—a little overwhelming in that respect.
Pairing Suggestion: I like brunost with beer. Rich, dark stouts like Schlafly’s Oatmeal Stout pair beautifully with this cheese—perfect for an after-dinner treat with a nice hunk of bread and some apples.
Last but not least, let’s talk American goat cheeses. One of my favorites is Purple Haze from Cypress Grove Chèvre in Northern California. Flavored with wild fennel pollen and lavender, it’s a flavor explosion in your mouth. The earthiness of the herbs combined with the distinctive tang of chèvre is utterly unique; combined, it tastes like springtime in Provence.
Pairing Suggestion: A perfect pairing for this cheese is a zesty zinfandel.
So, stop in and chat with your local cheesemonger to explore the world of goat’s milk cheeses. There is so much more to it than the run-of-the-mill chèvre. Taste some today!
Editor’s Note: Already love chèvre? Why don’t you try your hand at making some of your own? Annie outlines her easy steps here.
Annie Lehrer is a nurse practitioner who will soon be a farm girl and cheesemaker. Born and raised in St. Louis, she’s been in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother since she can remember. Having a house full of family, friends and delicious food is her idea of the perfect way to spend an evening. A former travel nurse, Annie has lived in various cities across the U.S. exploring diverse culinary scenes. Food—and everything associated with it, from earth to belly—is her passion. She dwells in downtown St. Louis with her cheesemonger husband, Simon. When not caring for patients at the hospital, Annie is swillin’ craft beer with her beer nerd crew, researching livestock, writing recipes, planning chicken coop designs, keeping up with the St. Louis art scene and spending time with her big Lebanese family. She loves cheese. She writes about all things cheese on her blog The Cheesemonger’s Wife. She’s funny as hell. You can try and keep up with her crazy life on Twitter.