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The People Who Stare at Goat Cheese

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The People Who Stare at Goat Cheese would be a great title for a movie. Of course, it would star George Clooney and the superstars of the Goat revolution! Who are the superstars and what is the revolution, you might ask. Well, it is the age of Capricorn and the stars of the revolution would be the key cheesemakers of this generation. From California to Vermont the movement surrounding the popularity of cheese produced from goat’s milk has slowly continued to gain support.

Key producers of goat cheeses in the United States include Mary Keehn, Judy Schad, Allison Hooper and let’s not forget Laura Chenel and Jennifer Bice. Many of the producers began by showing goats in competition. Yes, this is an underground scene, secretive with a unique language all its own. If you have ever seen a goat, petted a goat, owned a goat, you know what I mean. The eyes of goats are hypnotic and once you look into them you become possessed.Possessed with an inquisitive nature, an agile and sure-footed gait and a love for goat’s milk cheese. Soon all cream cheese disappears from your diet, replaced by fresh chevre. On bagels, in soup, on salad, in a wrap, wrapped in bacon, infused with chocolate, the list goes on and on. There is no turning back and the sky is the limit. It is no wonder that goats lived in the White House during the tenure of Abraham Lincoln. Let’s take time to learn a bit about goats.

The American Dairy Goat Association recognizes the following goat breeds: Nubians, LaManchas, Alpines, Oberhaslis, Togenburgs and Saanens. There are other breeds in the world, around 210, yet these seem to be the most popular in the United States. Goats came to the U.S. via a boat ride; yes, you guessed it, riding with Christopher Columbus. Females are known as Does or Nanny Goats, Males (intact) are Bucks or Billy Goats, the offspring are referred to as Kids and, little known fact, castrated males are Wethers. Goats are ruminants. Ruminants mean the animal has a 4-chamber stomach. Cows and sheep are ruminants also. Goats do not have teeth in the upper front jaw, like most professional hockey players. Goats can be traced back over 10,000 years to Iran. They seem to adapt to most climates and are generally friendly animals. Goats have two teats (cows have four teats) and typically birth twins. They can have a single kid or even up to six kids per litter at times, but this is rare. Goats get milked twice a day and produce an average of  one gallon per day. The average life of a goat is 11 or 12 years but Mary Keehn has had goats live to 18 years. Now, what about goat cheese?

Chevre is used to commonly describe any goat milk cheese in the United States. Overall, I do not object to this, but the term is loosely used. Chevre means “goat” in France and, after all, most of the goat cheese producers in the United States modeled on the French classic goat cheese products. Allison Hooper gained her passion for goat cheese during a tour of France. She is still amazed at how little consumers know about goat cheese. Her company, Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, has introduced new aged products over the past few years styled after French products. She thinks that this speaks to the evolution of the product over the last few decades.

Judy Schad owns Capriole Farmstead Goat Cheese in Indiana. “Farmstead“ means that the animals are raised and milked on the same property where the cheesemaking facility is located. This is great because the milk never leaves the farm. Sometimes when milk travels distances to the cheesemaking facility, the molecules break down creating off flavors. Judy calls this “the buck walking through the vat.” The strong, or off flavors, that some of you may have experienced with goat cheeses are caused by acids in the milk. If you have tasted a “compromised” goat cheese it is easy to say “I do not like goat cheese,” but I encourage you to try again. Goat cheese has come a long way, baby.Judy began with her career with goats via a relationship with “Tea Rose,” a goat bred by Mary Keehn. When her herd grew to 30 goats she began looking for ways to cover the costs of feed. Her cheesemaking career began with fresh goat cheese — what the consumers knew and wanted. Inspired by Chantal Plasse, as she had never been to France, she began experimenting with mold-ripened cheeses in 1993 and 1994 and thus “Wabash Cannonball” cheese was born. She wanted to broaden the horizons of the consumers in the marketplace and was creating cheeses to model on cow’s milk products. Her key message for all of you is TEXTURE. Goat milk is not homogenized so the texture is very rich and creamy. Got to love that about goat cheeses!

Probably the best known of the American original goat cheeses is the Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove Chevre in California. Mary Keehn is the Godmother of Goat! She rocks and so does her cheese. Her first goat was caught by her and cost about $15 (the price of a pizza today)! From that day on she was hooked. In the late 1970’s her background in biology and interest in genetics led her to enter a goat in a national contest. Guess what? She won! Not only were her goats judged on all of the attributes of breeding, but they were also prolific milkers — giving up to 1.5 gallons of milk per day. Her Alpine lines are still recognized as some of the best in the U.S. today. Her Humboldt Fog Cheese came to her in a dream. She was on her way home from a trip and was inspired to produce this cheese named after the area of the country that she lives in. This is the silkiest and sexiest goat cheese that you have ever tasted. Mary’s mantra is “clean milk makes clean cheese.” It is true, healthy animals produce high quality milk. Cypress Grove rewards it’s seven dairies by paying a higher price for the cleanest milk around. (She still loves her goats but does not raise them herself anymore.) Mary believes that culture is not only in the cheese but in the commitment that you have to the farmers, the community, the team of employees and to enjoying goats — they are as smart as dogs.I love the producers highlighted above but do not want to ignore others who are doing a great job! Thanks to all of the goat farmers and cheesemakers for bringing goat cheese in American to where we are today! Secret hint for goat cheese: make a pasta dish with fresh chevre melted in!

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