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Goat Cheese

Wednesday, 29 April 2009 | Tags: ,

With its distinct flavour and health benefits, goat cheese has been around for thousands of years. We find out what to look for in this rich and tangy treat, and pit a few traditional, imported varieties against some locally-made fare.

The Basics

  • Goat cheese is made from pasteurized goat’s milk, with bacterial culture added for fermentation, and rennet added for coagulation.

  • Chèvre is another name for goat cheese, from the French word for goat.

  • The characteristic tangy flavor of goat cheese is due to fatty acids found in goat’s milk, including caproic, caprylic, and capric acid.

  • Most North Americans know goat cheese as a soft, white-ish, crumbly cheese with a mild tang. This is typically called chèvre frais, which is unripened cheese, usually available in a plastic-encased log to help prevent spoilage.

  • Goat cheeses are matured in a variety of ways through different techniques that affect the flavour, depending on where it is made (France, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Italy.)

  • For 100% goat cheese with its rich and tangy taste, look for “pur chèvre” on the label. Some cheese blend goat and cow milk for a milder, less expensive product.

  • Chèvre frais is often imported from France (for a premium price), though there are now many good local North American goat cheeses available too, and they’re likely to be fresher on the shelf than their French counterparts.

  • Look for a goat cheese with a clean balance of tangy and creamy flavour. If possible, ask for a sample. Avoid any with an overly “goaty” flavour or aroma, which is due to high hormone levels in the milk.

  • Soft goat cheeses should have a milk fat (M.F.) content between 18-22%, but many found on grocery store shelves are much lower, often around 6%. The lower fat content may be a choice for health reasons, but you lose out on flavour. Remember that goat cheese is already naturally lower in fat than most soft cow’s milk cheeses.

  • Fresh goat cheese has a smooth texture that crumbles well. It should appear moist but not wet. Avoid any that are overly gluey or plaster-like, or that seem to be leaking whey inside the package.

  • Those sold in vacuum-packed plastic tubes have a longer shelf life (until you open them) than looser packages.

  • Many cheeses made from goat’s milk that don’t qualify as a chèvre frais (soft, fresh goat cheese), including:

    • Feta (which has been brined) makes an especially tangy Greek salad

    • Firm, aged goat cheeses (like gouda, jack, or cheddar) can be added to sandwiches or omelettes

    • Surface-ripened goat cheeses have rinds and are good as part of a cheese plate, including brie, camembert, and other pyramid, log and disc-shaped cheeses.

Other Considerations

  • Buy goat cheese in small quantities, unless you are planning to freeze portions of it.

  • There are many variations of basic fresh goat cheese, including low-fat, marinated in oil, covered in herbs and spices, pre-sliced into medallions, and combined with cow’s milk for a milder tasting (and less expensive) product.

  • Goat cheese is lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than most comparable varieties of soft cow’s milk cheeses. It’s also slightly higher than some in several vitamins and minerals like calcium.

  • An option for people who struggle with dairy allergies, goat milk and cheese are much easier to digest than the cow variety for their simpler fats and lower levels of lactose.

TEST CRITERIA

We went to a local cheese maker to help us taste test these goat cheese products:

  • Happy Days Dairy Goat Cheese (Okanagan, BC): $3.99/100 g
  • Damafro Chèvre des Alpes Soft Unripened Cheese (Quebec): $4.99/100 g
  • Soignon Chèvre Frais (France): $4.50/100 g
  • Chèvretine Unripened Goat Cheese (France): $6.00/100 g

Taste Test

  • The Happy Days cheese had a soft and distinctly mossy or grassy flavour, which Anna preferred but Kristina did not.

  • The Damafro was the mildest of the test cheeses.

  • The Soignon had a lovely creamy texture.

  • The Chèvretine was more salty, and had a sour tangyness. Our cheesemaker felt it was a bit too dense.

OUR TOP PICK

As an ingredient for our leek and goat cheese quiche recipe, we chose the Damafro Chèvre des Alpes Soft Unripened Cheese from Quebec. However, don’t be afraid to try different varieties to find a taste to suit your palate. 

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