David is a former chef/pastry chef/executive chef, and culinary school graduate. He is currently the cheese maker (and candy maker) at Black Mesa Ranch. Black Mesa Ranch is a small, sustainably-oriented, off-grid farmstead goat cheese dairy near Snowflake Arizona. www.BlackMesaRanch.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Goat cheeses are one of the most sought-after and appreciated classes of cheese by people interested in food, eating and cooking. Why? Because they are tremendously divergent in style, highly versatile in form, function & use and, (last but not least) they taste great, too.
Despite goat cheese being both an ancient traditional food and a rising star of the modern food scene, there are a lot of misconceptions and mysteries about the subject. I would be remiss to talk about goat cheese without talking about goats milk and it would be incomplete to talk about goats milk without talking a little about the goats. So, here are some key, and I hope interesting, facts about all three.
This will be a 3 part series over the next few weeks.
About The Milk
The Importance of quality milk in cheese making: Cheese is the process of concentrating milk, with it taking around 8 lbs of goat milk to make one pound of a firm cheese. Therefore the milk used for cheesemaking must be of the highest quality. It is easy to see how even minor flaws in the milk can result in major flaws in the cheese.
What makes great (and not-so-great) goats milk?: In addition to freshness, goats milk's flavor is influenced by the health (and to some extent the genetics) of the animals it comes from, the cleanliness of the milking environment, the speed at which it is chilled, and the gentleness with which it is handled. Besides the normal concerns for hygiene practices and food safety issues that make these factors important, goats milk also contains caproic, capric and caprolic acids in relatively large quantities that, with improper handling, can taint the flavor with an excessive "goatiness".
What's a "lactation curve"?: The variations in the quantity of milk given and quality of the milk components found throughout the lactation can be plotted on a graph and is called the "lactation curve" . Goat have a very interesting "lactation curve" and understanding it is crucial to being able to make good, consistent cheese from the milk on a home/farmstead/micro commercial scale.
Normalized Milk: "So, if the milk changes so much during the lactation, why does Kraft cheese always look and taste exactly the same?" (I hear you ask). Simple. They "normalize" every drop of milk they bring in before it starts the cheese making process. When the milk arrives at a cheese factory it is first analyzed for a variety of component ratios including milk solids, fat, protein, calcium, bacterial counts, somatic cells, inhibitors (antibiotics) etc. It is then "normalized" to meet the milk specifications needed. As a simple example for one component, if the milk is higher in butterfat than is desired they can add skim milk to dilute it down. It is too low in butterfat they can add heavy cream to bring it up. They will do this for all the different components until the milk is exactly as they want it, then the cheese making can begin. Milk can be "naturally normalized" to a certain extent on a farmstead or small commercial scale by staggering the breeding dates of the milking animals so the lactation curves off-set each other. This is more practical with cows than goats as goats are considered seasonal breeders and cannot usually be bred year 'round without special circumstances or medical intervention.
"Raw" milk: Milk that has not been heat treated (pasteurized) to kill bacteria is called "raw" or "natural" milk. The debate continues as to the values/dangers of drinking raw milk and eating cheeses made from raw milk. Cheeses made from raw milk are undeniably different than those made from pasteurized milk. They have more natural enzymes and a wider range of living cultures in them. There is no debate that heat treating the milk alters the flavor and damages the calcium and proteins in the milk which, at a minimum impairs some of their ability to properly hold the structure of the cheese together (calcium chloride is often recommended as an additional ingredient for cheeses made from ultra pasteurized milk to aid help with this problem).
Pasteurization: Pasteurization is the process of heating a food to kill bacteria. The process was first developed in the 1860's by the French chemist Louis Pasteur who was studying the spoilage of wine and beer and developed a moderate heat treatment that preserved them while minimizing changes in their flavor. Pasteurization also helps extend the shelf life of milk by killing spoilage microbes and by inactivating milk enzymes whose activity causes rancid favors.
What is "Homogenized"?: When you buy cow milk at the store, chances are that it is "pasteurized" and "homogenized". Homogenization is the process of breaking up the fat molecules in the milk so they don't float to the top as readily. It is generally done by forcing milk under pressure through small orifices. While homogenization is designed to make the milk more easily digestible, more "user friendly", and is generally recognized as a safe practice... recent concerns have arisen regarding homogenized milk causing free radicals, and the increased risk of heart disease.
Naturally Homogenized!: Goats milk is considered naturally homogenized because its much smaller fat molecules (compared to cows) mostly stay in suspension without any processing. As a matter of fact, if you want to get heavy cream out of goats milk you can't just skim it off the top, you have to use a centrifugal-type separator.
Digestibility: A newborn goat kid usually weighs in the 6 to 10 lb range - very similar to a human newborn. A newborn cow calf generally weighs 80 to 100 lbs (ouch!). Goats milk has significantly smaller fat and protein molecules compared to cow milk because of this. Think about it. Goats milk is "designed and built" to feed a more human-scale animal so it's really no surprise that most people find it much more digestible than cow milk.
What about lactose?: Goats milk has virtually the same amount of lactose as cows milk. This surprises many people who have had trouble digesting cow milk and, thinking it must be a lactose intolerance issue, switched to goat milk and their problems have stopped. This is usually because of the greatly increased general digestibility of goats milk due to its smaller fat and protein molecule sizes. Truly lactose intolerant? The good news is that goat cheese has much less lactose than the milk it's made from. A key part of the cheese making process is the conversion of lactose to lactic acid. The firmer and more aged the cheese, the less lactose it will have remaining in it.
White milk, Yellow Cheese, Green milk: Milk owes its white color to fat globules and protein bundles, which are just large enough to deflect light rays as they pass through the liquid. The butterfat in milk carries the colorless vitamin A and the yellow-orange carotenes from which it is made. Carotenes give milk and un-dyed butter and cheese what little color they have. Different animal species and breeds within those species differ in the amount of carotene they convert into vitamin A. Guernsey and Jersey cows convert little and give especially golden milk, while sheep, goats, and water buffalo process nearly all of their carotene, so their dairy products are naturally almost pure white. Butter and some cheeses are regularly dyed to varying shades of yellow and orange, usually with a natural food dye annatto made from the seeds of the achiote tree. There is no such thing as a naturally orange colored cheese. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is also found in milk and can sometimes be seen in skim milk and cheese or yogurt whey by its greenish color.
Part 2: The Cheese...coming soon.