River Cottage Australia

What is Goat's Cheese?

Cheese guru, Will Studd, explains what goat's cheese is, where it comes from, and why it's so great.

It’s hard to beat the rich, creamy flavour and refreshing delicate acidity of carefully made goat milk cheese. Instantly recognisable for its pure white colour, goat’s milk is rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals, and is easily digestible, due to the unusual structure of its small fat globules.

Goats have been domesticated since nomadic times. They were introduced to mainland Europe for cheese making by the Saracens during the 5th and 6th century. A legacy of those times are the many types of ‘Chevre’ found south of the Loire River in France, which today is the largest producer of goat cheese in the world. These benchmark cheeses take their name from the closest local village, and have inspired the production of similar goat’s milk cheese in other European countries, as well as in North America and, of course, Australasia. 

Goat’s milk cheese is becoming increasingly popular as a healthy alternative to cheese made from cow’s milk. But it was not always a trendy cheese, associated with great restaurants. In fact, the goat was once known as the ‘cow of the poor’, providing peasants in the drier regions of France with daily fresh milk, with which they made cheese in the farm kitchen at home. These batches were typically small in size and simple to make, using fresh raw milk and salt, and sometimes rennet.

Many goat cheeses are enjoyed within a few days of production while still moist and soft; others are deliberately ripened under a thin grey, green or blue wrinkled mould over several weeks. Goats are sensitive to cold and daylight hours, and naturally produce milk only in the warmer months of the year. Before refrigeration, cheese was traditionally stored for later use in ceramic pots, or dried under salt or a coat of finely ground charcoal for use when milk was scarce. 

Dairy goats are remarkably efficient milkers in proportion to their body weight. A doe will produce about four times as much milk as a milking ewe and three times as much as a cow. Unlike other dairy breeds, they are selective browsers, rather than grazers, and they have a bad reputation for being difficult to look after, and for chewing away at almost anything. Instead of depending on a diet consisting only of green pasture, they prefer to nibble just the tops of the grasses and happily seek out other nutrients in the bush, including tree foliage and deep-rooted plants. These provide minerals that are essential for the goat’s wellbeing and, crucially, ensure the production of good quality milk, which is the starting point for all great cheese.  Consequently, the finest goat cheeses found in the shops today are generally made from goat’s milk collected in a controlled farming environment.

Goat’s milk is used for making many different types of cheese, including blue and hard cheeses. But by far the most popular example is fresh curd cheese. This is because goat’s milk is very delicate and easily tainted, and the longer cheese is matured, the stronger and more distinctive the flavour and aroma of goat. A common problem is an unpleasant strong ‘bucky’ flavour, which is often caused by the presence of a courting buck. But don’t let that put you off! If you have never tasted goat’s milk cheese before, just make sure you try it really Fresh - with a capital F. You’re in for a real treat.

Will Studd is the host of LifeStyle FOOD's Cheese Slices.

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1 comment
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Posted by Sofia34Report
I'm inspired to try and make some now!