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A goat cheese primer

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What most people think of as goat cheese— chèvre—is a simple, fresh cheese that is versatile and freezes well.

However goat milk can be used to make a huge array of cheeses, says Kathryn Spann, co-owner of Prodigal Farm in Rougemont, including styles that can't be made with cow milk.

"Cheese is amazing in that one can start with the same few ingredients and end with very different cheeses, depending on the process," Spann says.

In goat milk cheeses, there are two main ways to make them:

1) Lactic cheeses: These include fresh chèvre, and the bloomy rind styles such as Hunkadora, Field of Creams and Crottin, which Prodigal Farm makes. In these styles, the milk is acidified using a starter culture, and slowly forms a curd over about 24 hours. These cheeses use little or no rennet.

The cheese is is then drained in bags—for chèvre—or molds—for bloomy rind styles—over two to three days. Once drained, the fresh chèvre is salted and any flavorings are added; then it is packed.

The bloomy rind cheeses are more involved. Once drained, they are unmolded and placed on mats on racks. At Prodigal Farm, the cheeses are placed in an aging refrigerator, which maintains a temperature of about 54 degrees. Here, they are hand-turned each day for about two weeks—the time required for the rind to form.

After the rind has formed, the cheese is moved to the regular 36-degree refrigerator to slow down the aging process. The cheese's texture starts as uniformly firm, much like a cool, fresh chèvre, but over time becomes runnier from the outside in, and the flavors become progressively more robust and complex. 

Note that cow's milk is not optimal for lactic cheeses, because the cream separates during the 24-hour ripening/coagulation period. Goat's milk is naturally homogenized—the fat and milk don't separate—which is why it is such a good fit for these cheese styles. 

2) Renneted styles: These include a wide range of cheeses, including feta, Gouda, Parmesan and most blues. These, too, start with the addition of a starter culture to begin acidification, but shortly thereafter a substantial quantity of rennet is added, so that the milk coagulates into curd in just a couple of hours from the time cheese-making began. 

Once the curd is formed, it is cut into dice-sized pieces, which helps them expel whey. 

The individual characteristics of renneted cheeses depend on the time it takes to acidify and coagulate, the size of the cuts, the amount that the curds are stirred and the length and technique of aging, known as "affinage."

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