Goat’s milk cheeses run the gamut of flavors, but when most of us hear the term one type comes to mind: soft, earthy, citrusy cheese, with a chalky edge and a barnyardy bite. We don’t lump all cow’s milk cheeses into one flavor category. Why are we so cavalier with goats?
Fresh goat cheese should taste bright, clean, earthy and have a hint of citrus.
So says Aubrey Thomason, partner and lead cheesemaker of Zingerman’s Creamery. “Barn-y flavors, what some folks mistakenly refer to as ‘goaty’ flavors, shouldn’t be present at all. Those flavors come from the mistreatment of the milk.”
Goat’s milk is very fragile compared to cow’s milk. Aubrey says, “It’s like making olive oil. You don’t let the olives sit around or they’ll start to go rancid and those flavors will come through in the oil. With goat’s milk, the more it sits around the more it breaks up and leads to soapy and rancid flavors.
“Goat’s milk has smaller fat globules than cow’s milk. It also has different (and more) acids in the milk and that’s where the earthy flavors come from,” Aubrey explained. “If you process the milk gently by pumping it from tank to tank less, using only fresh milk and acidifying it very slowly, you can bring out the earthy flavors.”
Large commercial producers of goat’s milk cheese aren’t quite as gentle.
They’re working with large quantities of not-so-fresh milk, pasteurizing it hot and fast, then sealing it up in plastic. All of which lead to unsavory flavors. Small artisan producers, like Zingerman’s Creamery, gently heat their milk and pasteurize at lower temperatures. The milk is then allowed to slowly acidify over a longer period of time to retain those delicate, earthy flavors you want in goat cheese.
Another shortcut of industrial producers is to use GMO-modified rennet and veal rennet in their cheesemaking. They’re cheaper, but not made for goat’s milk. “We use kid rennet specifically created to interact with goat’s milk.” Explained Aubrey. “It leads to nicer aging and setting for the cheese. It’s more expensive, but much better for the final flavor.”
Because of the smaller fats and proteins in goat’s milk, the cheeses tend to age much faster than cow’s milk cheese. As they get older the ‘goaty’ flavors tend to be accentuated. “That’s something you should never experience in a fresh goat cheese,” says Aubrey. “Well made and well aged goat’s milk cheeses will have more strength and character, but you should never taste the barn regardless of the age of the cheese.”
Six ways to enjoy good goat cheese:
1. Pair with grapefruit or other citrus.
2. Make a grilled goat cheese sandwich with buttered bread, hot salami and honey.
3. Melt nobs of goat cheese in a mac and cheese with lots of toasted cracked black pepper.
4. Heat diced tomatoes in a pan then melt a small round of goat cheese—instant pasta sauce with zip.
5. Crumble on a salad of spinach, beets, and spiced pecans.
6. Smear on a baguette and top with a few pinches of good red pepper flakes and a glug of extra virgin olive oil.