Peek in our fridge and you’ll find goat milk, goat butter, and a variety of goat cheeses — my daughter is allergic to casein (one of milk’s proteins) and I’m sensitive to lactose (its sugar). Goat milk, like cow milk, has both, but in a structure and an amount that makes it easier for our overly sensitive bodies to digest.
Even if your body doesn’t object to cow milk outright, goat milk could still be better for you. A recent Harvard medical study suggests that keeping cows pregnant and lactating most of the year results in worrisomely high levels of naturally occurring estrogens in modern cow’s milk, whether conventional or organic. (The Complete Patient’s David Gumpert wrote about the study shortly after its publication. Check out the comments section for discussion of the goat milk alternative and questions about the cow milk report.)
Since goats have provided almost all of our dairy for the last year or so — thank goodness for goats! — when I read Elanor’s resolution to go goat in 2008, I felt inspired to offer tips for finding great-tasting goat dairy products.
Milk: A taste of the barnyard?
Goat milk has the unfortunate reputation of tasting "goaty," but if the milk you’re drinking has that taste, something is wrong. Good, fresh goat milk is sweet and mild, with no off flavors — not all that different from cow milk. The flavor of goat milk is susceptible to problems at any stage of production or processing, but the most likely cause of a strong flavor is poor handling: for example, the goats or the equipment weren’t properly cleaned or the milk wasn’t cooled immediately.
Two other factors are often cited to explain strong flavors: keeping bucks (males) with the does, and pasteurizing the milk. Since bucks tend to be smelly — peeing on your own face will do that — they’ve been blamed for poor-tasting milk. But I’ve had excellent milk from herds that weren’t separated, and terrible milk from herds that were, so I don’t buy that explanation.
I initially believed that pasteurization made the biggest difference, because the worst milk I’ve tasted has been pasteurized. After thinking through all the goat milk I’ve drunk from numerous sources, I reconsidered. Though I prefer raw milk, some of the best I’ve tasted — from a backyard dairy and from a local farm — has been pasteurized.
My favorite milk has come from raw dairies. In Seattle, I’ve found milk from two sources: Rainhaven Dairy and St. John Creamery. Both taste clean and fresh. Theoretically available from Pike Place Market Creamery, a grocery focusing on organic dairy products, Rainhaven has been inconsistently available. Small Potatoes Urban Delivery was bringing St. John’s milk to my door, but repeated delivery and customer service problems with SPUD convinced me to instead trek to Madison Market, where it’s delivered on Tuesdays.
If you’re looking for goat milk, try finding a dairy you can visit or at least contact to ask about their dairying practices. Raw dairies should also be willing, or even eager, to share their test results. The Real Milk site provides the most comprehensive list of raw milk dairies, sorted by state in the US and by country elsewhere. You can also find dairies on Local Harvest, which lists small and sustainable farms, and Eat Wild, which lists pasture-based farms. A Google search will yield additional results not on any of those sites.
Some food co-ops and other grocery stores carry goat milk, sometimes from local sources. Probably the most readily available goat milk in the US is from Meyenberg, a California dairy with national distribution, but I don’t recommend it. It’s fine for baking, but I think its flavor is too strong for drinking straight or pouring over cereal.
Goat butter and cream
Meyenberg’s butter, on the other hand, is excellent. In appearance and useability it isn’t that different from cow butter. It is white (as many cow butters would be, were it not for added coloring, depending on feed and season), and it has a distinctive scent when melted. Its flavor differs somewhat from cow butter, which will be most apparent in preparations such as cookies. I like the taste, but you may not.
I’ve tried only one other brand of goat butter, which has an unpleasant waxy texture, though now I can’t find it to tell you which brand to avoid. I do remember its packaging has a hipper appearance than Meyenberg’s, with clean design and sans-serif fonts. I’ve seen other goat butter available for ordering online, though I haven’t tried it.
Very few dairies make butter, so you are unlikely to find it locally. (If you know of a small dairy making butter, leave a comment to share your source). Cream doesn’t separate naturally in goat milk as it does in cow milk, in part because the fat globules are of small, uniform size, and in part because it lacks agglutinin, the protein that encourages the cream particles in cow milk to stick together. The separating equipment is costly, prohibitively so for most small farms. No cream, no butter.
I’m considering trying to make butter myself using instructions from Mother Earth News, which say you don’t need a separator. You do, however, need a dairy goat. I figure fresh milk from a local raw dairy should work fine.
Finding goat cheese is my favorite part of exploring goat dairy products. Partly because I just love cheese, and partly because good local goat cheese is relatively easy to find around Seattle, though admittedly I have had some truly disgusting ones.
Two of the three goat dairies that sell cheese at Seattle farmers markets are quite good: Port Madison Farm, which makes pasteurized cheeses, and Estrella Family Creamery, which makes raw ones. Port Madison’s chevre — fresh, soft goat cheese — is the best I’ve had, and their spring cheese, cheddar, and brie-like soft aged cheese are all enjoyable. As for Estrella, well, the sign on their cheese case says "It’s All Good," and that’s exactly right. (Their cow milk cheeses are nearly irresistible, and we occasionally indulge.)
I think identifying good goat cheese just takes experimentation and exploration to find the folks who do it right close to you. If you can’t find a local cheesemaker, see what’s available at your cheese shop or grocery store. And if you’re in this corner of the country, check out the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project, a blog about regional cheeses of all varieties.
Goat milk yogurt is probably the tangiest of goat dairy products. The distinctive tart taste of goat yogurt and some goat cheese is what I think "goaty" should mean — this is the good kind of goaty.
I’m spoiled by the plain yogurt from Port Madison farm and when it’s seasonally unavailable I resort to Redwood Hill Farm yogurt from the California dairy. I think Redwood Hill is fine, but I stick with the flavored varieties or stir in a spoon full of honey, since it’s a bit too sharp for me. Both are thin enough to pour over your muesli.
(I don’t know of any thick goat yogurts, but if thick is your thing, I enthusiastically recommend another non-cow brand: Woodstock Water Buffalo — soon to be Vermont Spoondance Creamery – especially the Vermont honey flavor. It’s thick enough to use it as a spread if you want to, and so satisfyingly creamy that it’s almost an ice cream substitute for this former ice cream addict.)
Speaking of ice cream, Laloo’s goat milk ice cream is delicious. Two flavors in particular stand out: Deep Chocolate and Strawberry Darling, which has a swirl of balsamic vinegar. Mmm. My daughter and I have since learned that we’re allergic to other ingredients in Laloo’s (eggs, soy lecithin, strawberries), but when we first switched from cow ice cream, I discovered that I liked Laloo’s better.
Ice cream may be your best goat-dairy discovery, unless you have some of my fudge. Fudgemaking is a holiday tradition in my family, and though as a result of our allergies I can no longer make it like my dad does and my grandma did with cow cream, peanut butter, and readily-available chocolate (most varieties have soy lecithin), I have adapted a recipe using goat butter, goat milk, chocolate without soy, etc. I’ve included the recipe below.
Whatever you’re making, you can likely substitute goat dairy for cow with no adaptation, unless your recipe calls for cream, in which case substituting butter or milk or a mixture of the two can sometimes work. In many applications, no one will know you’ve used goat dairy, though depending on what you’re making the taste of the butter or cheese might shine through. That’s a good thing, I think.
If you’re truly switching to goat dairy and giving up cow, at some point goat dairy products will seem normal and cow dairy unusual.
Be aware that if you’re starting to "go goat" in January, you may find it hard to get some goat milk products, especially from small dairies. The supply is seasonal. In my area, it dwindles during the fall and winter while the does are in the last months of pregnancy. Larger dairies elsewhere also see a supply drop, but they are better able to stagger gestation so not all does are dry at once. Kidding season starts in December around here, so the supply of fresh products begins in a trickle again in January, but some does birth later, and some products are aged, so spring is when you’ll really see the full variety.
Jenni’s Goat Fudge Recipe
Liberally adapted from the Accidental Scientist’s fudge recipe. Don’t be afraid of messing with the ingredients in fudge recipes, they’re pretty forgiving.
12 ounces chocolate (I use origin bars from Theo chocolate)
6 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups goat butter
1/2 cup goat milk
1 tablespoon corn syrup (this helps prevent grainy fudge)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
Heat everything but the vanilla over medium-low, stirring until the chocolate melts and the mixture starts to boil.
Stop stirring as soon as the syrup starts to boil. Insert a candy thermometer, without touching it to the bottom.
Let the syrup continue to cook, undisturbed, until it reaches the soft ball stage, 235-240F.
While it cooks, gently wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush (one that won’t shed) dipped in water.
Once it reaches soft ball, remove it gently from the heat and allow it to cool undisturbed until it reaches 110F. I’ve found this step to take about 2 hours.
While you’re waiting, grease a couple of square 9-inch pans.
At 110F, add the vanilla and stir with a wooden spoon until it starts to set up, which might take 15 minutes or so. This is the part of fudgemaking where experience, rather than instruction, is the best guide. You’ll notice that the mixture changes gradually with stirring. It will start to appear less glossy, its consistency less like taffy, and it will resist your spoon more. Don’t let this get too far along, or you will get grainy fudge, or worse, fudge stuck in your pot. You want to get it to the point that it’s almost fudge, but transfer it just before it’s there. You’ll work it a little more while transferring it to your pan, and it will be grainy and dull looking if you’ve stirred too much. (You could cool and work it on a marble slab like a pro, which would reduce the cooling time and the likelihood of overworking, but I like the meditation of marathon stirring).
Store it wrapped in waxed paper in a canister at room temperature.