I looooove goat cheese. You may think that when I say goat cheese, I mean chèvre. Well, yea I do. But I also mean all the other cheeses made with goat’s milk.
“Whaaaat!? There are other cheeses made from goat’s milk in the world!?” I totally heard you think that through my computer screen. Don’t deny it.
But yes, there are plenty of other cheeses made with caprine milk. “Caprine” means of or pertaining to a goat. Like Capricorn.
Goat’s milk cheeses can be hard, soft, semi-soft, or firm. They have a wonderful array of flavors, not just that deliciously tangy, smooth chèvre. Would you like me to tell you about them?
Awww, how sweet of you!
I’m going to split this story into sections since my word document is about 12 pages long right now. The posts will go in this order: The Goat, Goat Milk, and Goat Cheese.
Before I start telling you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the goat, I’d like to bring something to your attention. Most foods have some sort of mythological or symbolic story behind them. An excellent example of this would be the apple in the Adam and Eve story in the book of Genesis. Because of that tale, the apple has become a symbol of sin and loss of innocence. It’s even sparked intense debates about whether or not the fruit was an apple or a pomegranate. Food is a deeply psychological aspect of our lives. When you eat, you eat the stories behind it.
Goats, milk, and cheese all have a rich history, full of myths, stories, symbolism, science, and fact. Put the four of them together and it’s like an explosion of information.
Archaeological evidence suggests that goats were first domesticated in the Zargos Mountains, now in Iran, about 10,000 – 12,000 years ago. They may have been the earliest domesticated food animal and were used for their meat, milk, hair, bones, hide, and dung as fuel. No part was wasted. In China, goat fur was (and still is) used for calligraphy brushes.
Goats were generally kept by wandering herdsmen in the Middle East, who prized them as valuable sources of food because they were easy and cheap. And everyone loves a cheap date.
The great thing about goats was, and still is, that they can live in virtually any type of environment. A goat will adapt to arid, humid, tropical, cold, desert, and mountain conditions and still produce milk. Goat cheese was considered a peasant food because goats were cheap to feed. They could survive on virtually anything and thrived on the poorest piece of land.
In ancient Greece, goats stood for poverty and winter because a “she-goat is a poor man’s cow.” Cows, on the other hand, feel that they are above such adaptations. This doesn’t reflect well on their character. It indicates that they are stubborn and uncooperative and probably didn’t do their homework in high school.
Goat cheese was produced where goats were most plentiful, specifically in the Middle East and Africa by those wandering herdsmen I mentioned. In the 8th century, A.D., goats were brought to the Loire Valley and Poitou in France by wandering Moors. From there, goats branched out to Catalonia in Spain, Greece, Italy, and even Norway, Wales, and Cornwall. Here are the first cheeses made by each of these peoples:
France: Chèvres (soft, creamy, tangy goat cheese we all know and love)
Catalans in Spain: Mató (fresh, soft cheese with no salt added, similar to ricotta, often served with honey)
Greece: Feta (aged semi-soft cheese, crumbly and brined)
Mizithra (made with leftover whey of other cheeses, creamy, also similar to ricotta)
Anthotyros (called Greek cream cheese because of taste and texture, slightly more granular)
Italy: Caprino (can be eaten fresh or aged, sweeter when young)
Norway: Brunost (brown cheese, sold as gjetost meaning goat cheese, thick, spreadable, looks like slices of peanut butter)
Welsh: Pant-Ysgawn (spreadable, citrus flavor)
Cornish: Gevrik (nutty taste, creamy and spreadable)
Goats held great importance in ancient civilizations and were the most common sacrifice to the gods. Bones of goats have been discovered in Neolithic graves, indicating their use in religious sacrifices. Greeks, Hebrews, Egyptians, and Africans all offered goats to their deities. Pagan groups sacrificed goats in fertility rituals. Pythagoreans sacrificed goats because they destroyed harvests by devouring them, thus making goats enemies of the gods.
The goat gained importance in Greece through Amalthea. Amalthea is described as both the first she-goat and a goat nymph. Either way, she did one incredibly important thing: she was Zeus’s foster mother. She nursed Zeus as a child and fed him milk and honey (hence milk and honey being the food of the gods). Amalthea and her children were awarded constellations for her good deed.
The word “tragedy” comes from the word τραγῳδία (tragōidia) in ancient Greek, meaning “he-goat-song.” Tragedies were performed at the festival of Dionysus in early spring and the prize for best tragedy, besides going down in history as a thoroughly depressing person, was a goat. Athena was the goat goddess, Pan and the Satyrs were part goat (and lusty), and the animal itself stood for fertility and lightning.
Goats had a different meaning in Christianity. They represented the Devil. Why, you might ask? Well….and brace yourselves….in ancient times, women used to…er….ok fine, they used to have sex with goats as fertility rituals. When Christianity began to spread across Europe, these women were viewed as witches, turning the goat into a symbol of the Devil. They were the Horned God and depicted as evil by artists. They were made “scapegoats” for European Christians. (A scapegoat is someone who bears the burdens that should be placed on others.)
In the Hebrew tradition, on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), a priest cast lots between two goats. One would be sacrificed and the other set free in the desert. The one set free, Azazel, became the first scapegoat, carrying the sins of the people into the desert.
In India, goats were thought to be the mother of the world.
I could go on forever, but I won’t.
Nowadays, there are 160 breeds of goat world wide. The best for milking are the Alpine, Saanen, Toggenburg, and Nubian, which the Renzi’s have. Organizations such as Heifer International encourage goat donations because of their resilient nature. There’s also these guys:
What do these goats have that most other goats don’t? Myotonic congentia. These goats, also known as fainting goats, have a genetic disease that causes their muscles to freeze instantly when they’re startled or excited. And they get startled by everything. It doesn’t cause the goat pain, but the younger goats will actually fall over, while older goats have learned to keep their legs farther apart or lean against something. My guess is they’re difficult to milk.
I think it’s adorable and funny.
This seems like a good place to stop. Sort of off topic, but the next one will be up soon. That’s a little more on topic.
Keep eating and asking, my friends.
Photos, in order of appearance: