DISCLAIMER: This post is information and science heavy and probably a little overwhelming. However, interspersed are pictures of baby goats being adorable, as well as some great Photoshops (if I do say so myself), a la my wonderful Lebrongoat. So take a minute to scroll through and check out the pictures and, if you are intrigued, take a read too.
Ah, milk. So vital to cheese making.
I found pages and pages of information on milk’s mythological and symbolic significance. First and foremost, it was “the essence of the mother goddess” (Andrews, 147). The mother goddess is depicted in many forms, most commonly a tree, woman, or cow. In each one she nourished kings, gods, and even the land with her milk.
The tree form often has female attributes, i.e. numerous breasts. In an African legend, the tree provided milk to a tribal chief’s daughter so that she could feed her brother. A Scottish-Gaelic tale tells of a milk-giving tree that provided the Milk of Wisdom.
Trees providing milk became a theme in world myth because several fruits, such as fig and coconut, produced a milky juice. The Egyptian god Hathor was a fig tree and the Aztec goddess Mayahuel was a maguey (agave) tree.
In Hindu myth, milk trees were alongside fruit trees in paradise. In addition, a Hindu creation myth says the world was created when Surahbi, the sacred cow, released a stream of sacred milk into the cosmos and filled it up. Hence the worship of cows.
The trees location in paradise meant that milk was the Elixir of Life. It was fed to gods, goddesses, kings, and pharaohs. It’s like the story of Amalthea in my previous post, the she-goat/goat nymph that suckled Zeus and got her own constellation. Similarly, Vulture goddesses fed the pharaohs of Egypt with milk and a wolf fed the Roman princes Romulus and Remus. In East Africa and the Sudan, milk was not consumed because it was likened to urine, but it was used in rituals for its power.
To the ancient Hebrews, milk was a symbol for pure, simple, and wholesome truth. It was associated with wealth and prosperity. The Hebrews believed the heavenly region was a land flowing with milk and honey.
Milk was so important that King Solomon declared “thou shalt have goat’s milk enough for the food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance of thy maidens.” (Soyer, 168). One of the four libations offered to the gods was milk. The other three were honey, oil, and water.
In Serbia, milk was poured into the ground to ease the gods during thunderstorms and it was formerly used in baptismal rights. Milk is the most elementary and heavenly nourishment. The ancient Greeks believed the Milky Way was the milk river from which all earthly rivers and oceans were created.
So I guess you could say that milk was important to ancient peoples.
And it’s important to us too, especially nutritionally. Everyone needs what milk provides. Plus, milk makes cheese. And cheese is divine.
And by a little, I mean a lot. You may succumb to a disease that I like to call “Information Overload” or “Head Asplode.”
Goat Milk Composition – Goat’s milk is a thinner milk that is lower in fat, making it easier for humans to digest. In most cases, lactose intolerant people can eat it because of its slight differences from cow’s milk. It has fewer calories and less cholesterol, and goat cheese has more calcium than cow cheese. Goat milk is generally sold as whole milk, processed cheese, and evaporated or dried milk products.
When it comes to the composition, it’s difficult to get definite readings on any of the components. No set compositional profile has been created, making the comparisons between goat’s milk and cow’s milk shaky at best. Problems also arise when trying to prove the nutritional value of goat’s milk. An organization called the Dairy Herd Improvement program is working hard to put together a set of guidelines for testing procedures that all manufacturers of goat’s milk would have to follow.
There are several components that determine the composition of goat’s milk; lipid (fat) fraction, cholesterol, protein, lactose (sugar), ash, enzymes, and vitamins.
Lipids – The average milk fat, or lipid count, in goat’s milk is 3.9%. Milk fat will fluctuated depending on the genetics of the goat, season, stage of lactation, and quality and quantity of feed. Cow’s milk lipid count will range from 3.0 – 6%. The percent of unsaturated fat, [oleic (a monosaturated omega-9 fatty acid) and linolenic (polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid) acids] is no different from cow’s milk. There is no advantage to choosing goat’s milk over cow’s milk in diets restricting saturated fat intake. Goats do have a higher proportion of capric, caprylic, and caproic acids – fatty acids which are responsible for the flavor and odor of goat’s milk.
Cholestoral – According to some studies, goat’s milk has about 11 to 25mg of cholesterol per 100g of milk. Cow’s milk has been shown to have 14 to 17mg per 100g of milk. However, it is difficult to determine for sure whether or not these numbers are accurate due to the inconsistent testing methods used on goat’s milk. There is a claim that goat’s milk is naturally homogenized. This is untrue and stems mostly from observations that goat’s milk does not cream quickly. The extended time it takes to cream goat’s milk is often attributed to a belief that fat globules in goat’s milk are much smaller than those in cow’s milk. In actuality, the fat globules are only slightly smaller. The reason for the difference in creaming is the lack of a protein called agglutinating euglobulins, which cause fat globules to cluster and rise to the top. They are, however, found in cow’s milk. It is also said that the “small” fat globules in goat’s milk make is what makes the fat easier to digest, but there has been no scientific evidence to prove that.
Protein – The protein in goat’s milk is incredibly similar to cow’s milk despite claims that goat’s milk is lower in protein. This is likely the result of the wide range of reported values when goat’s milk is tested. The range is caused by the lack of standardization in testing methods and differences between breeds.
However, the structure of the protein casein (phosphorous proteins commonly found in mammalian milk) is different enough from bovine milk to be easily differentiated in a lab setting. The casein micelles (what makes milk insoluble in water) are either much smaller or much larger than those found in cow’s milk. It has been suggested that, while the quantity and distribution of amino acids is similar in most mammalian milks, the assembly sequence is almost certainly different.
There is a similar difference in the lactalbumin (heat soluble protein) portion of the two milks as well. The lactalbumin in cow milk triggers an allergic response from many people, while goat’s milk does not. The reaction is attributed to the differences in the two proteins structures.
The proteins in cow’s milk are huge, fit for an animal that will one day weigh over 500lbs. The proteins in humans, sheep, and goats are quite short, which is why babies, the infirm, and arthritics will often thrive on goat’s milk. However, this can become problematic as infants and the elderly can develop anemia from lack of certain minerals that are not found in goat’s milk.
Lactose – Lactose is the main sugar in goat’s milk, but there are also small amounts of inositol (a carbohydrate with a small amount of sweetness). The lactose concentration is usually lower than in cow’s milk but the difference is hard to determine because of the variation in testing methods. There has been no consensus on whether or not the lactose should be analyzed in non-hydrated milk form or mono-hydrated form. The water of hydration is capable of introducing a five percent discrepancy in the reported concentration of the same actual amount of lactose.
Ash – Goat’s milk ash percentage is slightly higher than that of cow’s milk.
Ash is what the minerals in milk are called. So “ash” would consist of any minerals that might wander into milk through the feed or water the animal is ingesting. The ash fraction will differ in response to different points in lactation but also on a daily basis. Accurate evaluation relies on averaging the values of a single animal over an extended period of time or using an average from samples taken from different animals in the same herd on the same day.
So basically, it’s tricky.
Milk’s nutritional value is often determined in terms of calcium and phosphorous. The difference between goat and cow milk is not significant enough to declare one more nutritional than the other. There are also similar amounts of potassium, sodium, and magnesium. Trace minerals in both types of milk are nearly the same, with only a slight variation in the level cobalt (vitamin B12) and molybdenum (promotes growth in animals), as well as vitamin B and xanthine (intermediate in the metabolic breakdown of nucleic acids to uric acids).
There is a small variation in the citrate level, which affects the flavor components in cultured dairy food. The largest variation is in the chloride concentrate. It is higher in goats, which may be the cause of infectious mastitis (an inflammation of mammary glands caused by disease producing microorganisms). It causes the salt sodium chloride concentration to increase and has become an endemic in small goat herds. The association of cow and goat milk with infantile anemia comes from the low levels of copper and iron in both milks. It can be easily reversed by adding trace minerals into the diet.
Enzymes – Following the trend of “goat’s milk isn’t so different from cow’s milk but there are some differences,” we come to enzymes. Again, they are similar. And again, there are some specific differences. The alkaline phosphatase (used as an indicator of proper pasteurization) is slightly slower than that found in dairy cows, but the enzyme has the same degree of heat susceptibility and works just as well as a pasteurization marker. Peroxidase (another indicator of proper pasteurization) activity in bovine and caprine milk is the same, but the xanthine oxidase (promotes oxidation of hypoxanthine and xanthine to uric acid) level is lower in goat milk. Levels of activity for ribonuclease (acts as a catalyst for ribonucleic acid hydrolysis) and lysozyme (enzyme present in body fluids that acts as an anti-bacterial agent) are higher in goat’s milk.
Vitamins – There is a lower level of B12 and B6 in goat’s milk, the meaning of which is not clear. Despite the fact that the concentrations of B12 and B6 are equal to or exceed the concentrations found in human milk, anemia developed in infants and experimental animals is often attributed to deficiencies in these vitamins. As mentioned, anemic conditions can be eliminated by adding cooper and iron to the diet. The anemia could also be a result of low levels of folic acid in goat’s milk. However, the concentration does not vary from that in cow’s milk and both are thought to cause anemia in infants.
Vitamin A potency comes directly from the vitamin itself, rather than the precursor carotenoid pigments (color pigments as well as chemicals responsible for the flavor of foods) in cow’s milk. This makes goat’s milk and milk fat to be whiter in color.
Milk Production – Seasonal variations will change the concentrations of nutrients within goat milk, the same as cow milk. However, the fluctuations are greater with goat’s milk, meaning that goat cheese will be even more seasonal than cow cheese. Changes in the amount of fat, SNF (solids-not-fat), and minerals (like calcium and phosphorous) alter the taste of the milk as well.
There are significant daily variations as well. If you make a chèvre on Tuesday, May 10th, it’ll be slightly different than a chèvre made on Wednesday, May 11th. These fluctuations are especially pronounced during the fourth month of lactation.
Again, the quality and quantity of feed will change the quality of the milk, but it will not change the amount of milk produced. The nutritive value will stay constant over a wide range of feeding conditions as well. The major controlling element in a goats diet is the energy content of the feed.
Goat’s Milk Products – Goat’s milk will produce the same type of products as cow’s milk. Major amounts are being made into dried milk, evaporated milk, cheese and yogurt, as well as being bottled and sold as whole milk. It has become widely used in France due to the ability of goat curd to be frozen. Some believe that frozen curd produces a superior cheese than fresh curd. It can be made without using salt and can keep for up to 6 months at 5°F.
Despite goat’s milk usefulness, many small operators have been forced to shut down because it is so difficult, time consuming, and expensive to meet the government set sanitation standards.
Dunno about you but I just got a case of the Head Asplode’s.
One more thing before I finish up. In 2002, a herd of goats in Canada were implanted with a spider gene. The milk they procured was skimmed and the protein extracted was used to produce a fiber that was identical to spider silk. It was patented as BioSteel by Nexia Biotechnologies.
What is BioSteel?
It’s a high performance sports drink.
Jaykay (but not really). It’s a biopolymer strong enough to potentially be used to create bulletproof vests. It’s a unique fiber that is strong, tough, durable, lightweight, and biodegradable. Research is being conducted in how to use BioSteel in the medical, military, and industrial fields.
Move over, Lebrongoat. Here comes Spidergoat.
That’s the end of this day’s lesson. Till next time, when I fiiiiinnnnalllly approach the subject of goat cheese.
Keep eating and asking, my friends.
Photos, in order of appearance: