Goat Cheese: Feel Like a Kid Again
Looking for a new experience? Goat’s milk is different from cow’s milk, and not just in flavor. Learn what to make with goat cheese, and tips for serving it.
Is your cheese game getting as old as a cave-aged Cheddar…but not as sharp? Maybe it’s time to expand your cheese repertoire.
There’s a whole world of cheeses out there, and many of us just scratch the surface when it comes to trying new types of cheese…including cheeses made from the milk of animals other than cows. Goat’s milk and sheep’s milk have different flavor profiles (and other properties) than cow’s milk, as do the cheeses made from them. And while cow’s milk was designed for calves, sheep’s milk for lambs and goat’s milk for baby goats (kids), their cheeses bring tremendous joy to the humans who choose to expand their horizons in search of new experiences. So if you’ve never tasted goat cheese, isn’t it time you tried something for the first time to feel like a “kid” again?
First, let’s address a couple of reasons some people turn to goat cheese: the perceived health benefits of goat’s milk.
Does Goat Cheese Have Lactose?
No, goat cheese is not lactose-free, although some people who are lactose intolerant report that they are able to eat goat cheese. In reality, goat’s milk has nearly the same amount of lactose as cow’s milk, but according to Dr. Gourmet, goat’s milk may be more digestible because its fat molecules are shorter than those in cow’s milk.
Also, cheese is generally easier for lactose-intolerant people to digest than milk is because the fermentation process actually reduces lactose. The longer a cheese is aged, the more lactose has been converted to lactic acid. This is true of cheese made from any kind of milk (cow, goat, or sheep). So if you can’t tolerate lactose, you could try eating longer-aged cheeses such as sharp Cheddar or Parmesan cheese…but there is no magic bullet, and no substitute for listening to your doctor or your own body.
Does Goat Cheese Have Casein?
If your problem with milk is not lactose, but a milk or dairy allergy, the culprit is a protein called casein. All milk contains it, including goat’s milk…but many people allergic to dairy are sensitive to Alpha S1 casein. Goat’s milk contains less Alpha S1 and primarily Alpha S2 casein, which explains why some people (emphasis on some) with milk allergies may be able to tolerate goat cheese. Unlike lactose, this protein does not go away during the cheesemaking process, so if you are allergic to cow’s milk and products made from it, be sure to consult a health professional before eating goat cheese.
So now that the possible health benefits of goat cheese have been discussed, let’s look at the main reason many people love to add goat cheese to their cheese repertoire: flavor.
What Does Goat Cheese Taste Like?
As with many foods, it’s sort of hard to describe, but goat cheese is often described as having a tart, earthy flavor. The robust aroma and flavor some people describe as “barnyard” (don’t all milk-producing animals come from a barnyard?) is the result of the fatty acids in goat milk that differ from those in cow’s milk. Similarly, many people describe the flavor of lamb meat as being more “gamey” than beef, even though lamb is not wild game. It’s just different. Some love it and some don’t, and personal taste can be affected by the way individuals taste things, or what you grew up eating.
Also, there are many types of goat cheese with different flavor characteristics, just as there are with cheeses made from cow’s milk. The most common goat cheese is the soft, unripened cheese generally known as chèvre…but goat cheese is made in many different styles. Some imitate Gouda or Cheddar, although they can’t be called those names because they aren’t made from cow’s milk. On the other hand, some cheesemakers make blue cheese out of goat’s milk, as well as feta. Historically, feta is made from sheep’s or goat’s milk but is mostly made from cow’s milk in the United States — more on that in a bit.
In reality, any goat cheese can be called chèvre; it’s simply the French word for goat. And while many of the goat cheeses we see in stores are made in France, a growing number of artisanal cheesemakers in the United States—including Wisconsin—are making goat cheese. One such artisan is Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese, who makes a traditional soft white chèvre as well as a blue cheese, and also combines goat’s milk with sheep’s and/or cow’s milk to make some fantastic mixed-milk cheeses.
Types of Goat Cheese
There are several different types of goat cheese, each with its own unique characteristics. Here are some common types:
- Fresh Goat Cheese: Commonly referred to as chèvre, this is a creamy and spreadable cheese. It is typically young, tangy, and mild in flavor. Fresh goat cheese is often used in salads, spreads, and as a base for other recipes.
- Aged Goat Cheese: These cheeses are allowed to mature and develop more complex flavors. They can range from semi-soft to firm and crumbly. Aged goat cheeses tend to have a more intense and sharp taste compared to fresh varieties.
- Buche de Chevre: This type of goat cheese is shaped like a log or cylinder and is often coated with ash or herbs. It has a dense and compact texture with a strong and distinctive flavor.
- Crottin de Chavignol: Originating from France, Crottin de Chavignol is a small, disc-shaped cheese with a wrinkled rind. It has a nutty and earthy flavor, becoming more robust with age.
- Pélardon: Pélardon is a traditional French cheese made from raw goat’s milk. It has a slightly firm texture and a delicate, creamy flavor with herbal undertones.
- Rocamadour: Rocamadour is a small, creamy cheese named after the region in France where it is produced. It has a smooth and velvety texture, and its flavor can range from mild and milky when young to stronger and nuttier when aged.
- Montrachet: Montrachet is a classic goat cheese originating from the Burgundy region of France. It has a dense and chalky texture with a tart and citrusy flavor.
These are just a few examples of the diverse range of goat cheeses available. The flavor, texture, and appearance can vary depending on factors such as the region of production, aging process, and the specific recipe used by different cheesemakers.
The Difference Between Feta and Goat Cheese
Feta cheese and goat cheese have several differences. Feta is traditionally made in Greece from sheep’s milk or a blend of sheep’s and goat’s milk, while goat cheese is exclusively made from goat’s milk. Feta is brined and has a crumbly texture with a tangy and salty taste, while goat cheese can range from mild and creamy to stronger and more pungent. Feta has specific regulations tied to its production, while goat cheese encompasses a broader range of cheeses made solely from goat’s milk.
What to Make with Goat Cheese
The spreadability of goat cheese (at least the soft type) makes it a natural for crostini or bruschetta, especially when paired or mixed with salty olives, earthy-sweet sun-dried tomatoes or herby pesto for contrast. Goat cheese is primarily a Mediterranean product since cows are less common in that region. As such, it goes especially well with garlic and a fruity or grassy olive oil.
Remember the earlier description of goat cheese as “earthy” in flavor? This trait makes it compatible with other earthy foods, like mushrooms or beets. In fact, a roasted beet-and-goat cheese salad has been a staple on good restaurant menus for a while now, and leads off this excellent collection of goat cheese recipes. Another very uncommon but beautiful use for goat cheese is to use it instead of cream cheese in frosting (especially with honey and a touch of lavender in your cupcakes).
Goat cheese ice cream is a unique type of ice cream that incorporates goat cheese as one of its main ingredients. The resulting ice cream has a distinct flavor profile due to the presence of goat cheese. It tends to have a tangy and slightly savory taste, with a creamy and smooth texture. The flavor intensity can vary depending on the type and quality of goat cheese used, as well as the other ingredients and flavorings included in the recipe. Goat cheese ice cream is often considered a gourmet or specialty ice cream flavor, and may be served on its own, paired with complementary desserts like fruit crisps or pies, or even used as a topping for certain dishes.
Goat Cheese Pairings
Because there are so many types of goat cheese, it’s hard to nail down a specific wine to go with it. But the classic wine to go with chèvre is sauvignon blanc—especially Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé from France’s Loire Valley. (Vouvray, another Loire Valley white made from chenin blanc grapes, is also excellent.) If you’re enjoying a Wisconsin goat cheese and want a true local experience, Wisconsin’s award-winning Wollersheim Winery’s Prairie Fumé is the perfect match (provided it’s available in your area).
Other excellent matches for goat cheese are the crisp dry rosés of Provence (where goat cheese is widely served), fresh, fruity reds like Beaujolais, or—here’s that earthy/earthy match again—a pinot noir from anywhere, including Burgundy.
If you’re putting together a cheese board and want to know what other cheeses work and play well with goat cheese, start with cheeses that complement sauvignon blanc or pinot noir. You’ll find common ground in Asiago, Havarti, and Muenster, so you can build your cheese board from there. Add some nice bread, whole-grain crackers and fresh fruit, and your friends will call it the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).
Check out Wisconsin Cheeseman for goat cheese and mixed-milk cheese.