Real Food Encyclopedia | Goat Cheese

For some eaters the funky, slightly gamey taste of goat cheese is the epitome of fresh-from-the-farm flavor. For others, the words “funky” and “gamey” have no place describing good food. Previously the domain of hippies and health nuts, goat cheese is now commonly found on the menus of the finest restaurants and is ubiquitous in the cheese section of most supermarkets.

Goats were the first that we domesticated. Along with raising goats for meat, early farmers discovered that they could also take the animal’s milk for an additional source of protein. The milk was stored in the thermos of the time — an animal stomach — and the enzymes present, along with the jostling of travel, churned the milk, separating it into its liquid and solid components. Which is how we got the first cheese, most likely a fresh goat cheese that rewarded a milk-toting traveler with a satisfying snack for their journey and a thirst quenching guzzle of whey to wash it down.

This accidental discovery was honed into process and, as civilization spread north into what is now Europe, the tradition of producing cheese — first from goats and sheep and later from other domesticated animals such as cows and water buffalo — developed along with it. Today, Europe maintains a strong cheese making tradition rooted in these early practices.

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Fun Facts about Goat Cheese: 

  • Goats were originally introduced to the Americas by Spanish colonists in the 16th century but did not enjoy the same popularity as other farm animals.
  • Although Asia maintains over 50 percent of the world’s goat population, it produces virtually no goat milk or cheese because nearly all Asians — approximately 90 percent — are lactose intolerant.
  • France produces the most goat cheese: 92,918 tons in 2014.
  • Fresh goat cheese has about half of the fat, calories and cholesterol of cream cheese and makes a fine substitute on your breakfast bagel.

What to Look for When Buying Goat Cheese

Goat cheese takes many forms. Some types that are commonly made with cows’ milk, such as cheddar and Brie, can be made with goat milk instead. And other varieties are unique to goat’s particular brand of goodness. The rule for finding the best tasting goat cheese is the same for finding the best version of any cheese. Look for independent producers who are dedicated to their craft. Cheese made by hand under the watchful eye of a trained cheese maker will always be superior to a product stamped out on an assembly line.

A few of the most popular styles include:

  • Chèvre is another name for fresh, un-aged goat cheese. Its texture is fluffy and pillowy. Chèvre is often sold in vacuum-sealed logs and discs, which are perfectly fine; however, the sealing process can compress the paste. For the airiest chèvre, look for cheeses that are loosely wrapped, wrapped in cheese paper or offered in a resealable container. Chèvre is sometimes flavored with ingredients such as peppercorns or coated with herbs such as dill.
  • Soft ripened goat cheeses often have a light, bloomy or wrinkled rind or are lightly coated in vegetable ash to protect them as they age. These cheeses are creamy and buttery with a more pronounced goat’s milk flavor that develops as they ripen.
  • Aged goat cheeses have a pronounced, assertive flavor that fully expresses the personality of the milk from which they are made. These cheeses can range in texture from soft and oozy, to firm and crumbly like goat Gouda.
  • Goat feta is made from pressed curds that are cured in a salt brine. Like cow and sheep feta, goat feta is tangy and crumbly with a distinct goat flavor.

Sustainability of Goat Cheese

Environmental Impact of Goat Cheese

Like all animal products, how the animals are raised determines their environmental impact. However, cheese production adds an extra layer of resource usage. In addition to the processing of cheese, aged cheeses must be cooled and stored for extended periods of time, adding to their carbon footprint. And hard cheeses which have had the moisture pressed or aged out of them are more concentrated so, ounce for ounce, represent a more significant resource count than softer cheeses.

Conversely, hard cheeses are more intensely flavored because of their concentration and are eaten more sparingly. And artisanal cheese producers most frequently raise their animals on pasture, which has a much less detrimental impact on the environment than animals raised in confinement.

To limit your goat cheese’s impact on the environment, source your cheese from local producers who are raising their animals in the fresh air and sunshine and are using traditional methods rather than factory processing to make their cheese.

Goat Cheese Seasonality

Goats can be bred year-round so fresh cheese is always available. But many goatherds prefer to kid (birth goat babies) in the spring when milder temperatures are easier on fragile newborns. Traditionally it is this sunny season that brings new baby goats to the farm and the flowing milk results in a peak in the production of young, fresh chèvre.

Goat Cheese and Geography

Goats are raised all around the world and cheese making has been a useful way of preserving excess milk for millennia. Many varieties from light and fluffy chèvre to the rich, caramelized Gjetost of Norway reflect the unique geography and culture of the region where the cheese is created.

Eating Goat Cheese

Storing Goat Cheese

Fresh goat cheese that has been vacuum-sealed can stay in the refrigerator unopened for two months. Once it has been opened, it will be good for five to seven days. Aged cheese that has been cut will keep for five to seven days in the refrigerator as well.

It’s best not to wrap cheese in plastic. It needs to breathe to maintain flavor and shelf life. You can store fresh or aged cheese in a resealable container or a small glass bowl with a dish slid over the top to make a lid.

Cooking with Goat Cheese

Fresh goat cheese is the most versatile. You can serve it as is as part of a cheese platter or on top of a salad. Goat cheese is terrific blended with cream cheese for an easy spread for crackers or crostini. Fresh goat cheese is terrific to cook with as well, and there are myriad recipes that demonstrate its versatility as a pizza toppingquiche ingredient, base for a sauce, layer of a tart and so much more.

Preserving Goat Cheese

Fresh goat cheese can be frozen. Aging is in itself a preservation method, allowing the cheese to be enjoyed months after it is produced.

Goat Cheese Nutrition

Sixty-five percent of the world’s fluid milk consumption is from goats’ milk, not cows’. Goat milk and cheese contain smaller fat globules, which make the cheese easier to digest. So eaters who are lactose intolerant can often consume goat cheese with no ill effects.

An ounce of goat cheese has 80 calories, six grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat, zero grams monounsaturated fat, five grams protein, zero grams carbohydrates, 130 milligrams sodium and 20 milligrams cholesterol. Goat cheese has less than one microgram of Vitamin K per ounce.