Got Goat Milk?

Edible Culture Winter 2010 Issue

Got Goat Milk?

By Jeanne Carpenter | Photo By Becca Dilley 0

As the largest producer of fluid goat milk in the country, Wisconsin is home to 199 milking herds and 40,000 goats. Last year, Wisconsin’s goat herds produced a whopping 35 million pounds of milk, which sounds rather impressive, until you compare it to the state’s dairy cow production, which tops 1.2 million cows and 25.2 billion pounds of milk.

That’s the conundrum of America’s Dairyland: Although Wisconsin dairy goat farmers are heralded as national leaders in their industry, those darn black and white bovines and their happy cow commercials continue to steal the spotlight.

I’d argue that’s about to change. While cow milk cheeses get the majority of marketing and research resources, goat milk cheeses are winning more awards than ever at national contests. In fact, at the 2010 American Cheese Society (ACS) Competition, cheeses made with goat milk captured nearly one-third of all awards bestowed upon cheesemakers in North America, infiltrating categories once reserved for cow milk competitors. For example, goat milk cheeses swept the ACS Blue Mold Cheese category with fanciful names like Hubbardston Blue Goat, Prairie Bloom and Bluebonnet. And Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook, the most decorated Wisconsin cheesemaker in history, took home 18 ribbons for his original Carr Valley cheeses. Not surprisingly, half of those were for cheeses made with goat milk.

One begins to wonder how much more these folks could accomplish with a little help from their state’s marketing and research organizations, currently funded only by cow milk dairy farmers. Not able to take advantage of the decades-worth of genetics and research that supports the dairy cow industry, goat farmers and cheesemakers naturally tend to be some of the most innovative men and women you’ll ever meet. As relative pioneers of a fledging industry, they’re not afraid to share knowledge about what works and what doesn’t with their neighbors, and often, their competitors.

That’s why during the past ten years, the quality of goat milk and, therefore, goat cheeses has dramatically improved. I can’t tell you how many people say they don’t like goat cheese because the one and only piece they tasted 10 years ago was “too goaty.” With the advent of modern milking equipment and more cheesemakers able to process fresh goat milk into cheese in a timely fashion, the majority of goat cheese made in Wisconsin today is incredibly fresh, clean and of the highest quality. Gone is the barnyard-taste of yesterday. Today we’re winning awards with amazingly complex and original goat milk cheeses.

What follows is a sampling of goat milk cheeses that won awards at the 2010 ACS Competition. All are made within an hour or two of Madison and are available at specialty cheese counters or local farmers markets.

Fresh Goat Cheese with Pesto by Dreamfarm, Cross Plains
Often when consumers refer to “goat cheese” in the United States, they really mean chevre, and Dreamfarm’s chevre is second to none. In fact, it beat every other fresh goat cheese in the country at the 2010 ACS Competition. Crafted by cheesemaker Diana Murphy (pictured opposite), this farmstead cheese is made from early spring to late fall and is often one of the first fresh cheeses available at farmers markets in the spring. It’s the kind of cheese that makes us Wisconsinites anxious for the snow to melt and the goats to start milking.

Raw Milk Goat Cheddar by Mt. Sterling Cooperative Creamery, Mt. Sterling
This mild goat cheddar is versatile and mellow—perfect both for cooking and as a table cheese paired with a good wheat beer. Goat cheeses often compliment citrusy flavors in foods and beverages because they naturally possess more acidity than cow milk cheeses. Some people may equate this flavor to sour notes or unpleasant tanginess, but Mount Sterling’s cheddar is exceptionally well-balanced and not the least bit goaty. This smooth, nutty cheddar is a perfect choice to introduce to friends who have been goat-cheese averse in the past. And yes, we all have those friends.

Cave Aged Cardona by Carr Valley, La Valle
A natural rind goat cheese boasting loads of sweet and nutty complexity as a result of cave aging, this multiple-award winning cheese is an American Original created by Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook. Its firm, smooth texture pairs beautifully with a Sauvignon Blanc or a medium bodied red wine. This is what I like to call a “gateway drug of goat cheese,” meaning once you taste this beauty, any former aversion to goat cheeses will be forever diminished.

These three award-winning goat cheeses are just a smattering of the many types, varieties and styles of goat cheese made in Wisconsin today—and based on the innovative spirit of our goat cheese producers and processors, I can imagine they are only a foreshadowing of masterpieces to come.

Jeanne Carpenter is a former farm girl turned cheese geek, writing and talking about cheese for a living. As the specialty cheese manager at Metcalfe's Market-Hilldale in Madison, she works with Wisconsin cheesemakers to bring new products to market. Her motto is "Have Fun. Do Good. Eat Cheese."

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