A wheel of goat cheese with a piece cut out sits on a wooden board

Fundamentals of Cheese: Understanding Goat Cheese

Everything you need to know about all the types of goat cheese

Despite not having the funk of washed rind cheese or the particular sting of blue cheese, goat cheese can also be polarizing because of its distinct tang. But fresh, tangy cheeses are not the only way that goat’s milk expresses itself in cheese form.

The term “goat cheese” is often synonymous with chèvre cheese, the fresh, rindless logs of goat cheese that may be found everywhere from your grocery store dairy department to artisanal cheese shops and farmers’ markets.

Simply meaning “goat” in French, chèvre refers mainly to these fresh cheeses, but like other animal milks, goat’s milk cheeses run the gamut: from young and fresh to aged and fruity in terms of the variety of cheeses they result in. Goat's milk cheeses are also made all over the world.

Here we get to know several important points about goat’s milk cheese.

Goat Cheese’s Long History

Cows need relatively open pasture in order to graze, but goats are more versatile in terms of their ability to find sustenance, capable of scrambling among mountains and rock formations because of their small and spry build. Because of this, goats were among the first animals to be domesticated by humans for milk production, and goat’s milk for human consumption dates back to about 5000 B.C., with cheesemaking of goat’s milk soon to follow. 

Related Reading:3 American Cheeses Fit for the President of France

Goat Cheese in the U.S.

Despite the longevity of goat milk and goat cheese consumption worldwide, and especially in France, goat cheese is a relative newcomer to the United States.

Laura Chenel of Sonoma, California, is largely credited with introducing the idea of high-quality, domestic goat cheese to Americans in 1979 with her eponymous creamery, using techniques learned in France. California-based Cypress Grove was soon to follow, with Mary Keehn introducing a variety of goat’s milk cheeses beginning in 1983. Nearly simultaneously, several goat dairies in Vermont started experimenting with cheesemaking as a value-added proposition to their operations.

Now the U.S. has dozens of dairies and creameries dedicated to the production of goat’s milk cheese, in nearly every state where cheese is produced, representing cheeses of every imaginable style. 

The Telltale Tang of Goat Cheese

Several fresh chèvres are made in a manner known as acid-set, where milk is allowed to ferment naturally, or with the addition of acid, to separate the curds from the whey, rather than with the addition of rennet, which is used in the majority of cheesemaking. While this may contribute somewhat to some goat cheeses’ especially tangy character, it is the nature of goat’s milk itself where its distinctive flavor arises.

Recipe:Goat Cheese Pasta

Does Goat Cheese Have Dairy?

Though goat’s milk is still considered a dairy product, it is higher in certain fatty acids than other animal milks, including caproic and caprylic acid. While contributing to goat cheese’s tangy character, these also make goat’s milk easier to digest with a lower component of lactose. So, for the many people who wonder does goat cheese have lactose, the answer is yes, but less than most cow's milk cheese, meaning goat’s milk cheeses are often appropriate for those with a lactose intolerance.

Goat cheese is also the lowest in natural fat content than any other animal milk commonly used for cheesemaking.

Goat Cheese’s Signature Color

Fresh, unaged cheeses such as chèvre, or those made from other animal milks such as mozzarella and feta, often have a bright white appearance. As cheeses age and lose moisture content, cheeses made from cow or sheep’s milk tend to take on a buttery, almost yellow hue. (Yellow cheddars, as well as other cheeses one may characterize as orange, are because of the inclusion of a natural coloring agent called annatto.)

Related Reading:Understanding Cheddar

Goat’s milk cheeses, on the other hand, are easily spotted in a cheese board lineup because they tend to remain white in nature. This has to do with the presence of beta carotene, or lack thereof, in the various milks.

Because goats lead a more active lifestyle than cows or sheep, frequently bounding off of rocks, each other (or even people doing yoga), they tend to get banged up and bruised more frequently than other animals. Beta carotene is present in grass, and therefore in the milk of most animals that eat grass, but it is beta carotene that gets converted to vitamin A in the body for use as a healing agent. Goats tend to convert more beta carotene into vitamin A to keep up with their fearless behavior, and therefore less of it gets passed on into their milk.

Consequently, while cow and sheep milk are tinted by the beta carotene they pass on, goat cheeses remain relatively white, even in aged varieties.

Goat Cheese Beyond Chèvre

Exceptional, artisanal chèvre is now easy to find, and your local varieties are worth seeking out at grocers or farmers markets.

Beyond those fresh logs, however, goat’s milk contributes to cheeses in every imaginable style including important American cheeses such as:

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