A Tasty Tufts Guide to Cheese: Goat’s Milk
While American dairy favors the cow, there’s a whole realm of other ungulate cheeses that are worth a taste. One of the most popular and accessible alternatives is goat’s milk. The milk of choice in regions ill-suited to cow pasturing, goat’s milk has a distinct flavor and chemistry that is part of the charm of its cheeses.
Goat’s milk has long been a choice for dairy-sensitive individuals since it has a similar nutrient profile to cow’s milk but a consistency that’s considered easier to digest. Compared to cow’s milk, it contains slightly less lactose (significantly less when cultured to make cheese), and very little of an allergenic type of casein protein called Alpha s1. It is also naturally homogenous, with its fat in very small and readily absorbed ‘bits’.
For cheese-making, goat’s milk is capable of producing nearly all of the cultured dairy products that cow’s milk can produce. Goat’s milk has a pronounced flavor, sometimes called ‘grassy’, that’s most noticeable in fresh cheeses and less distinct with age. The only types of cheeses that goat’s milk can’t replicate are the supremely melty ones, since the smaller fat particles and different protein composition make it brown more quickly than cow’s milk. Since its fat doesn’t separate, cow’s cream must be added to achieve the fat content of a ‘double cream’.
Here are some of the most common goat cheese types:
Goat’s milk makes some of the best fresh cheese, with a smoother texture than cow’s cheese (due to the natural homogenization and slightly higher fat content); however fresh cheeses have the strongest goat flavor. Salt is one of the most common additions; it helps to extend their shelf life and also helps to compliment the grassiness.
Chèvre is probably the most famous fresh goat’s cheese; a lightly salted ‘farmer style’ cheese, it represents an ideal palate for other goat-friendly flavors. Ideal pairings play on the ‘grassiness’ or attempt to contrast it: fresh and dry herbs for a layered grassiness or fruits, honey or sweet spices for a sweetness accentuated by the combination of salt and acidity. Chèvre works well both raw and cooked; its low acidity means it won’t readily seize. It is particularly good slightly warmed, when it softens into a spreadable consistency.
In Southern and Eastern Europe, where the hilly climates don’t allow cows to roam, goat and sheep milk are often used interchangeably. A typical distinction is between the ‘sweet’ and ‘salty’/’acidic’ – when salt is added to ‘sweet’ cheese’, it extends the life and allows the coagulating acid to continue working, producing a fresh cheese with slightly fermented flavors. The freshest of these resemble ricotta, while the aged varieties are closer to chèvre in texture and flavor. Compared to sheep’s feta, goat’s feta is more heat-sensitive and best used raw.
BloomyGoat’s milk makes interesting bloomed cheeses. With its natural homogenization, goat’s milk requires added cow’s cream to make the richer bloomed cheeses like a double-cream brie or a triple cream. This divides the world of bloomy goat’s cheese into two camps – the pure goat variety and the mixed goat’s milk and cow’s cream types.
The pure variety is limited to single cream cheeses, which limits the creaminess and gooiness options; however they can be excellent vectors for the bloomy flavors of the cultures and rind. Like fresh goat’s cheese, the texture may be smoother and slightly richer than a low-fat cow’s cheese. Pure bloomed cheeses are well-known in the cheese world, especially those from Alpine France. More recently, American cheeses like Humboldt Fog have also caught the attention of connoisseurs.
Goat’s milk also finds itself well-represented in mixed milk cheeses, either enriched with cow’s cream or combined with sheep’s or cow’s milk. Adding goat’s milk makes uniquely-flavored double and triple creams, while a combination of all three milks can make for a cheese with a good balance of flavor, texture, and richness. Like with pure bloomed cheeses, France and the United States are the heart of the bloomy mixed milk world.
Goat’s milk also makes excellent aged cheeses if you’re looking for one of the more protein-forward varieties. Goat’s milk can make uniquely flavored cheeses across the aging spectrum from firm and springy to dry and crumbly. As it ages and loses moisture, the goat flavor becomes more prominent again, making the driest varieties a great ‘seasoning’ cheese; like a parmesan with the ‘goat’ bite. Hard goat cheese is excellent on a cheeseboard due to its stronger flavor and weaker cooking qualities. Like with bloomy cheeses, goat’s milk helps to strengthen the flavor of the culture and aging process and can make some truly fantastic eating varieties of cheeses you wouldn’t typically see on a cheeseboard.
A final note regards one of the most unique cheeses on the market – Norway’s geitost. A bit like cajeta, the goat version of dulce de leche, this mixed goat’s milk and cow’s cream cheese has a texture like caramel and is a great dessert cheese. It’s made by slow-cooking the milk mixture until it caramelizes. It can be found at Whole Foods and sometimes at other stores and highlights the special textural and structural properties of goat’s milk – namely the homogeneity and higher tendency to brown. Cheese represents an incredible alchemy performed on a single humble ingredient, and goat’s milk shines both in its simplest form as chèvre and when turned almost into candy with geitost.
Both amateurs and experienced cheese-lovers alike shouldn’t overlook goat’s cheese as a great part of the dairy world.
Cover image source.