Here’s some practical, albeit less whimsical, goat cheese info. Just some things you’d like to know about storage, types, etc etc etc. Etc.
And maybe one more etc. For good measure.
Goat cheese does not mean chèvre. Goat’s milk can be made into hard, aged cheeses or semi-soft cheeses. There are a huge variety of cheeses that range from strong and pungent to delicate and mild in odor and flavor. Their textures can be creamy, crumbly, or semi-firm.
The definition of cheese, according to the Agriculture Handbook, is “a product made from milk in which protein is coagulated and concentrated, accompanied by milk fat trapped in the curd” (http://drinc.ucdavis.edu/goatdairy.htm). Agriculture Handbook, No. 54, lists over 400 varieties and 800 names of goat cheeses.
Here are a few examples of goat cheeses, besides chèvre:
Bûcheron (my great love)
Crottin de Chavignol
In addition to the wide variety, goat cheeses come in various shapes: cone, disc, wheel, “button,” bûche (pronounced “boosh,” a log shape), and puck shaped crottin (pronounced cro-TAN).
The flavor in goat cheeses comes from the fatty acid in the milk, which is different from that found in cow’s milk. Fat content varies by breed of goat. In addition, the animal’s feed will affect the flavor. Milk production is seasonal and takes place mainly mid-March to late October; the greatest flow being in the warmer months. Most goat cheeses are not aged more than 4 months and loose quality when they are frozen. However, the French are experimenting with frozen curd, while in the West artificial light is being tested to increase milk production in the winter.
There are hundreds of goat cheeses to choose from, yet there are not set rules for labeling. When it comes to choosing a cheese, labels may not be helpful in selecting the type of you would enjoy. When choosing, it is better to ask the cheese monger (or a friend) for guidance. Or do what I do. Close your eyes, stick out a finger (of your choice), and grab whichever one you end up pointing at.
Goat cheeses can be unripened (fresh) or ripened. The main differences come from moisture content, which determines the texture of the cheese. They can be soft, semi-soft, firm, or hard. Some cheeses are spoonable while others are aged further and can be cut with a knife. Ripened cheeses have a culture in them that provides a special taste and texture. Young, unripened cheese is whiter, whereas ripened cheese is creamy colored. Cheeses are distinguished by age, density (moisture content), size, shape, and coatings.
Soft: Soft cheeses are the most common cheeses made from goat’s milk. Examples are fromage blanc and chèvre. They can be eaten any time within a few days to two weeks of being made. Imported cheeses are vacuum-sealed and will stay fresh for months.
Soft unripened cheeses have the typical goat cheese tang associated with chèvre, as well as a moist, creamy, fresh curd texture. A strong smell is normal, but if the cheese smells sour (like a moldy wet rag) and doesn’t taste tart, it’s gone bad.
Another soft cheese example is crottin, which can be eaten soft or be allowed to dry until very hard and crumbly. The flavor is more intense with a slight whiff of ammonia. This scent is usually a sign of a cheese having gone bad, but in this case it is the smell of an extremely strong cheese.
Firm: Firm goat cheeses are usually seen wrapped in foil in rectangular blocks. They are caramel in color with sweet, tangy flavors and a firm buttery consistency. They are mostly made in Norway (called brunost, meaning literally “brown cheese”) and look like sliced peanut butter when cut. Firm, unripened goat cheeses are made from straight goat’s milk or a mixture of whey from goat and cow’s milk. A similar cheese can be found in Washington State, and both have a long shelf life.
Soft: Soft, ripened cheeses have a velvety looking white surface mold (penicillium candidium) like a cow Brie or Camembert. The white mold on the outside is called the “flower” and is completely edible. Examples are chevrita, Camembert, and chevrefeuille, all of which ripen like cow Brie and Camembert. The cheese is ready when it gives when pressed and is creamy in the center.
Soft ripened cheeses in a pyramid shape don’t get as soft. They are crumbly but will taste smooth. As the cheese ages the mold will begin to turn brown and, if desired, can be cut off.
Italian ricotta can also be made from goat whey. It looks like regular ricotta and is perishable, but has the slight tang of goat cheese.
Semi-Soft or Firm: Semi-soft or firm cheeses are like cheddar or jack; cheeses that can be sliced easily with a knife. They are typically aged three to four months before being sold. French chëvrotin and èterlou are similar to jack cheese but not widely available.
Firm (unripened or ripened): They have a firm texture similar to Gruyere, but can be harder. The milk may or may not be cooked and the curds are pressed. The cheeses are aged in order to mature and dry them and are not widely available. Unripened chèvre is dry enough to be grated, similar to Romano cheese. Crottin, ripened or unripened, can be soft or hard.
And that’s that for cheese descriptions.
The most common goat cheese comes from France: chèvre. Chèvre not only refers to goat cheese, but also means goat. The cheese has a tart, earthy flavor and is available in many variations. It is a rapidly aging cheese with a mild flavor that becomes bold over time. Chèvre can replace cream cheese in recipes and also has more calcium.
Thirty percent of Spain’s cheeses contain goat’s milk or are exclusively goat’s milk. The best known are Ibores,
Spanish goat cheeses are extremely flavorful due to the breeds and type of feed. Goat cheeses made in Canada are generally less pungent and tart and always soft, cream-type.
Various goat cheeses are packed in olive oil and herbs and are meant to be eaten on bread. The tradition of flavoring goat cheese is thought to be at least 900 years old and originated by the Romans. The first herb the Romans experimented with was parsley.
This type of prepared goat cheese can be bought, but can also be made at home. The oil keeps cheese fresh longer but, if making at home, be sure that the acidity of the cheese is low enough to prevent the growth of food-poisoning bacteria that grow in anaerobic environments (tightly sealed containers with liquid and little oxygen, like jars). Goat cheeses may also be marinated in red wine.
Some goat cheese are coated in herbs (lavender on bûcheron is wonderful), black pepper, edible flowers, and sometimes chocolate. Possible wine pairings – crisp white or young red, such as white sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, zinfandel, pinot noir, and malbec.
One of my favorite blogs, The Kitchn, has some tips on how to marinate your own goat cheese. Check it out here. (That’s also where I got the previous picture).
Goat cheese is 15% more expensive than similar cheeses made from cow’s milk. They are cut by weight or pre-packaged. When buying cheese cut by weight, you can ask for a taste, but packaged ones you will have to judge for yourself. Refrigerate the very perishable and soft ripened cheeses and wrap loosely in wax paper. It’s best to keep them in a larger container or fridge compartment for storage so they don’t pick up odors of things like onions and garlic and don’t spread their own. Goat cheeses are served the same way as cow cheeses and are best at room temperature.
Cheese making procedures differ based on the type of milk being used (like cow vs. goat). Milk may even respond differently to manufacturing procedures, which can be minimized or eliminated by standardizing the composition of milk from different species to a common level before making cheese. Basic goat cheese making involves warming the milk, adding rennet, and draining and pressing the curd. To age a cheese, it is treated with salt to form a rind. Pretty much basic cheese making.
I think this might be the first series I’ve successfully finished up. I will celebrate by writing about Easter Eggs because I said I would. Even if I am two months late. And scrapple. You’ll all be happy to know that I finally bought the book, rather than pay another late fee. My local libraries have turned into loan sharks. Really nice, gentle old lady loan sharks.
In addition, if you’re in Philadelphia, check this out: Fork is having a special dinner in honor of the new cookbook Goat: Meat, Milk, Cheese by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. It’s a meal filled with goaty deliciousness. Perfect timing, no? I’ll be there. It’s on Wednesday, June 22 and seating begins at 5pm. Make reservations!
Keep eating and asking, my friends.
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Photos, in order of appearance: