Everything you always wanted to know about rinds *but were afraid to ask

Photo credit: Becks & Posh

Dear Haystack,

I’m confused about cheese rinds. Are they safe to eat? Is it rude to leave them on my plate?

Sincerely,

Rattled by Rinds

 

Dear Rattled,

You’re not alone: This is the question most frequently asked of cheese professionals. The short answer is, unless a cheese is waxed or bandaged, the rind is safe to eat and it’s a matter of personal preference.

It helps to understand what the rind is and what purpose it serves. Think of the rind as the skin of the cheese. Its function is to keep the surface of the cheese from being exposed to air, which also serves to protect the interior, or paste. Rind formation happens organically as part of the aging process (this is why fresh cheeses, like our chevre, don’t have rinds- they’re not aged), but the much of the art of cheesemaking lies in controlling the rind development and aging process with the right combination of bacteria (molds, yeasts, etc.), temperature and humidity.

If the rind cracks, unwanted microorganisms can enter the cheese, causing off flavors or spoilage. The style or type of rind on a cheese can reflect the climate, region or simply the cheesemaker’s personal preference. It also contributes to a cheese’s final taste and texture, to varying degrees.

Note that the cheese industry doesn’t have regulatory terms when it comes to classifying styles of cheese or rinds, so depending upon who you talk to or what you read, terminology may vary. Some cheeses also fit into more than one category (say, a washed rind that also has a mold like Geotrichum added to it, like the French cheese Langres). Read on for a crash course on rinds, so you can hold court at your next cocktail party.

Haystack Peak

Soft-ripened

Also known as surface-ripened or bloomy-rind cheeses, these are ripened from the outside surface inward, because of the molds used in their production- primarily Penicillum candidum or Geotrichum candidum. These molds what give these cheeses their distinctive white to pale-yellow, beige, or grayish rinds, which may be velvety, chalky, or wrinkly (this last is a characteristic of Geotrichum) in texture, and earthy, mushroomy or floral in flavor. The most well-known soft-ripened cheeses are Brie and Camembert; our Haystack Peak and Snowdrop are soft-ripened.

Fourme d’ambert, a blue cheese that also has a natural rind. Photo credit: Cheese Rank

 

Natural

Exposure to air- and the ambient microorganisms that exist in a given environment- are what contributes to the formation of these cheeses; they don’t have additional bacteria or mold added to the milk or curd. Sometimes, natural rind cheeses are rubbed with fat, like olive oil or lard, or bound with cloth (see final entry, below) to prevent cracking. Our Queso de Mano is a natural rind cheese.

Good Thunder, is washed with beer. Photo credit: Cheese Rank

 

Washed

These are your “stinky” cheeses. Their rinds- which may be orange, pinkish, yellow, or reddish- are the result of a bacteria called Brevibacterium linens. B. linens can be naturally occurring, but it’s usually added to the brine or other liquid (beer, wine, spirits, et al.) used to “wash” the cheese as it ages. Washed rinds usually smell stronger than they taste, and they’re particularly compatible with beer (just sayin’). Fun fact: B. linens is the same bacteria that flourishes on human feet, which is why some washed rind cheeses smell like…you get the picture.

The most famous washed rind cheeses include Epoisses, Livarot and Pont l’Eveque. Our Red Cloud and Funkmeister are washed with brine, and A Cheese Named Sue is washed with Oskar Blues G’Knight Imperial Red IPA.

A bandaged Cheddar. Photo credit: Cheese Notes

Bandaged/Clothbound, waxed, or coated

Bandaging, waxing or coating cheese (with olive oil or other fats, or spices) prevents cracking and inhibits the growth of unwanted microorganisms; the addition of spices and other ground aromatics also enhance the flavor of cheese. Waxed cheeses like our Vaquero Jack or Buttercup– are encased in a food-grade coating that should be removed for consumption (most bandaged cheeses have their wrappings removed before purchase).

One final tip: When confronted with a cheese plate at a party or dinner, resist the impulse to excavate the paste from the rind (the result is not pretty). If you’d prefer not to eat the rind, simply discard it on your plate.

No rind left behind. Photo credit: Williams-Sonoma

 

Recipe: Grapefruit & Avocado Salad with Haystack Mountain Peak

Ruby Star grapefruit: in season now. Photo credit: Backyard Fruit

As a child of California, I grew up immersed in a culture awash with citrus and avocados. I recall plucking tangerines from orchards and eating the sun-warmed fruit as a snack, and marveling over the many varieties of avocado at our county fair. Years later, as a farmers market vendor in the rain-drenched Bay Area, I overcame the winter doldrums by admiring (and eating) the vibrant array of citrus fruits sold by my colleagues.

One of my favorite ways to use citrus is to combine it with goat cheese. The acidity and residual sweetness in the fruit compliment the tang of the cheese, making them the ideal companions for a winter salad. Balance things out with a bitter or spicy component (think kumquats, dates and watercress, or orange and endive).

The following recipe celebrates one of my favorite things from Texas: Ruby Red grapefruit, now at its peak. Combined with the nutty, creamy avocado and the piquant, earthy notes of Haystack Peak, it’s a simple, grounded dish that speaks of sunny days to come.

Serves 4

Vinaigrette

½ small shallot, minced

1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

 

Salad

2 pink grapefruit such as Ruby Red, peel and pith removed and sliced crosswise into ¼-inch thickness, or cut into supremes

2 ripe avocados, sliced ¼-inch thick

4 ounces Haystack Mountain Peak, sliced lengthwise to ¼-inch thickness

Flaked sea salt, to taste

Daikon radish sprouts or microgreens, for garnish (optional)

 

Arrange grapefruit and avocado on a serving platter. Rewhisk vinaigrette and drizzle atop fruit, and season with salt. Add slices of Haystack Mountain Peak and finish with a scattering of radish sprouts.

How to section citrus fruit. Photo credit: Patricia Salzman

 

©The Sustainable Kitchen®, 2017

Curd(s) is the word: Five ways to use our squeaky cheese

Just add beer. Photo credit: Golden Age Cheese

They’re a Midwestern staple, and an integral part of poutine, Canada’s national dish- but for the rest of us, if we think about cheese curds at all, they’re merely a novelty snack food. Curds (also known as squeaky cheese, for the sound they make when they rub against the teeth) are made from the curdled milk solids formed in the early stages of the cheesemaking process. The resulting mild, slightly rubbery, strangely addictive nuggets are usually consumed fresh or battered and fried (curds don’t melt completely, but rather, achieve a pleasing, gooey consistency).

Domestic cheddar curds are the most popular type found on the market, produced by small artisan cheesemakers as well as nationally-recognized brands. Haystack Mountain began making curds from pasteurized cow’s milk to meet consumer and wholesale demand. Breweries, in particular, clamored for us to make curds, as they’re a popular bar snack.

Photo credit: Visit Malone

Ask, and you shall receive. Our cheddar-style curds are made milk sourced from family-owned Longmont Dairy, and made by head cheesemaker Jackie Chang and her crew. Currently, we offer plain curds, but Jackie has almost perfected her Bloody Mary Cheddar Curd and Green Chile and Lime Curd recipes, so look for them at your local grocery, cheese shop or farmers market soon.

Speaking of Bloody Mary’s, we have some uses for cheese curds that go beyond the expected (we’re not dissing deep-frying; we just love to play around in the kitchen and behind the bar).

The next time you’re confronted with a bag of curds, resist the urge to scarf them all, and try the following:

Make Bloody Mary’s and martinis more special

We’re semi-purists when it comes to cocktail garnishes- pass on the Bloody Mary’s bristling with a refrigerator’s-worth of ingredients. But a few skewered curds interspersed with spicy green olives or pickled red chilies? Yes, please. You can also stuff olives with curds for a vamped-up version of the Dirty Martini (we recommend pairing with a whey-based vodka like Black Cow).

Amp up your eggs

Add to scrambles just before they set for extra creaminess, or fold into omelets.

Give grits a little more love

Stir until semi-melted, and add a dash or three of hot sauce (we love the ones from Boulder’s own Motherlode Provisions). Psst- they also make a righteous Bloody Mary mix.

Separating curds. Photo credit: Scientific American blog

Make grain-based dishes pop

Toss with farro and roasted root vegetables or other seasonal ingredients (cherry tomatoes, corn and fresh herbs, grilled asparagus and prosciutto, caramelized mushrooms and leeks, kale and bacon…). Curds also play well with barley, bulgur, quinoa, Israeli couscous and orzo pasta. Use as you would feta or mozzarella.

Farro with cheese curds, cucumbers and mint. Photo credit: The Bonjon Gourmet

Marinate in aromatics

Combine with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic cloves, fresh red chilies or chile flakes and fresh herbs or citrus peel; seal in a sterilized canning or Mason jar, and keep for up to one week in the refrigerator. Use in green, pasta or grain salads, heap on crostini or serve with roasted or grilled vegetables.

Photo credit: Lottie and Doof

Getting Your Curd’s Worth: How to Interpret Food Labels

Confused about the difference between grassfed and organic dairy? Read on. Photo credit: Civil Eats

 

Grocery shopping in the 21st century is about so much more than procuring food; it’s increasingly a political act. Even if you’re not adhering to any particular diet (gluten-free, grassfed, Paleo, et al), your choices have an impact locally, nationally or globally. When you actually care about the provenance of your ingredients, a trip to the store becomes even more fraught with confusion.

Nourishment is a basic human need, and while it’s important to make good choices that have a positive effect on our health, animal and farmworker welfare and the environment, it shouldn’t result in angst. The key is to be an informed consumer, and just do the best you can to offset negative consequences. You also have to pick your battles, based on what’s important to you (or your dietary needs).

One of the biggest frustrations for consumers is demystifying food labels. To help make your food purchases- at the store, farmers market or online- less confusing, we’ve compiled a list of the most commonly-used terms. For the purposes of this post, we’re focusing on dairy and meat production/products. Here’s to making more informed, empowered food choices.

Milking time at a farmstead dairy in California. Photo credit: Redwood Hill

Farmstead: With regard to cheese, the American Cheese Society (ACS) definition refers to product “made with milk from the farmer’s own herd or flock, on the farm where the animals are raised. Milk used in the production of farmstead cheese may not be obtained from any outside source.”

Haystack Mountain started as a farmstead operation in 1989; after founder Jim Schott retired and sold his dairy goats, we began sourcing our goat’s milk from our partner dairy at Skyline Correctional Center in Cañon City, Colorado; we also purchase supplementary milk from Lukens Farms– a small, sustainable family farm in Weld County; our cow’s milk comes from family-owned and -operated Longmont Dairy (see Organic heading below for herd management details).

Artisanal: The ACS defines artisan or artisanal cheese as one that is “produced by hand, in small batches, with particular attention paid to the tradition of the cheesemaker’s art and thus using as little mechanization as possible in production of the cheese,” regardless of milk type. “Artisan” is also our preferred term at Haystack Mountain with regard to our cheesemaking practices.

We refer to our cheeses as artisanal, due to our production methods. Photo credit: Loco Belly

Pasture-raised: This term has no legal definition with regard to livestock or poultry, and isn’t a guarantee of humane animal husbandry.

Certified Humane Raised and Handled®: Look for this label, which ensures “the humane treatment of farm animals from birth through slaughter,” in accordance with consumer demand for more ethical farming practices. To be Certified Humane®, ranchers must ensure that animals have “ample space, shelter, gentle handling to reduce stress, and a “healthy diet of quality feed, without added antibiotics or hormones.” Cages, crates, and tie-stalls are prohibited, and animals must be allowed to engage in natural behaviors; regulations are overseen and implemented by a national non-profit.

Animal Welfare Approved (AWA): With regard to humane livestock production, AWA “audits, certifies, and supports independent family farmers raising their animals according to the highest animal welfare standards.” Livestock must be permitted to engage in natural behaviors, “be in a state of physical and psychological well-being,” and raised on pasture or range. This voluntary program doesn’t charge fees to participating farmers, making it sustainable in more ways than one. Considered the gold standard in livestock management certification.

Humane livestock management allows for natural behaviors, like these pigs rooting in pasture. Photo credit: ACES

Grassfed: This USDA-regulated term denotes that cattle and other ruminants (cud-chewing mammals including bison, sheep, and goats), may have their predominantly pasture-based diet supplemented with grain. Use of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides (on pasture) are also allowed. Note that “Grass-finished” is an unregulated claim.

AGA-Certified Grassfed (AGA): The American Grassfed Association has applied a third-party audit system to create a label that they say “takes USDA standards to a higher level.” Ruminants must be born and raised in the U.S., fed nothing but pasture forage from weaning to slaughter, free of hormones and antibiotics, allowed to engage in natural behaviors and raised free of confinement (including feedlots).

AGA-Certified Dairy: This newly-approved term ensures the same husbandry methods as above, as well as “the healthy and humane treatment of dairy animals, to meet consumer expectations about grassfed dairy products and to be economically feasible for small- and medium-size dairy farmers.

A beef cattle feedlot. Photo credit: Livestock Tracker

Organic: According to the USDA, meat labeled “organic” may not contain hormones or antibiotics and livestock must be fed a diet of 100-percent organic feed and forage. This doesn’t, however, ensure animals are raised on pasture or in a pen- or cage-free environment or permitted to graze- yet paradoxically, the rule asserts that livestock must be raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors. Organic dairy products must come from livestock that have “been under continuous organic management for at least one year prior to the production of the milk or milk products.”

Non-GMO/GMO-free: There’s really no way to guarantee this term with regard to animal feed or most commodity crops grown for human consumption, thanks to something called “pollen drift.” The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit that “provides the only third-party labeling program in North America for products grown without using genetic engineering. They verify that the process products go through, from seed to shelf, are produced according to their rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance.” Key word: Avoidance.

Photo credit: 123rf.com

Just fondue it: Pairing Champagne & sparkling wine with cheese

Photo credit: Direct Matin

One of the cheesiest holidays of the year (both literally and sometimes, figuratively) is New Year’s Eve. Whether you choose to go big or spend a quiet night at home, however, celebrating with cheese is always a Do.

Given Haystack Mountain’s high-altitude location, we like to get all retro and break out the fondue pot or racler (a scraper used to make the dish raclette; more on that in a moment). There are few dishes that better embody the essence of an Alpine winter than these Swiss specialties, and because they’re traditionally consumed in a communal manner, they’re ideal for entertaining or a party of two. They’re also ridiculously easy to make, as long as you have a few essential pieces of kitchen equipment (if the ‘70s left you devoid of a fondue pot, use a double-boiler, instead).

Fondue is traditionally enhanced with a splash of kirsch (clear cherry brandy) or dry white wine and a cut clove of garlic, heated over an open flame in a caquelon, or pot. Depending upon the region, the cheeses vary, but it’s always a combination of Alpine styles such as Gruyère and Vacherin- we like to substitute our Sunlight and Wall Street Gold. To make fondue more of an, ahem, balanced meal, add cubes of cured meat and sliced apples or pickled vegetables to the hunks of bread used for dipping into the cheese.

Photo credit: ZSG

Raclette hails from the canton of Valais, where the cheese of the same name is produced. The dish is made by propping a half-wheel of cheese before an open fire; once its surface blisters, the molten bits scraped into a bowl filled with chunks of boiled potatoes; pickled onions, cornichons and air-dried beef are served on the side. It’s one of the most rustic, satisfying dishes I can think of, made even better when consumed after a daylong snow sesh.

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, you can replicate raclette at home by purchasing a special holder for the cheese, but you can also buy electric raclette makers (cheating, but who’s judging?). The most important thing are the classic accompaniments and a cheese that approximates the nutty, earthy, slightly funky profile of raclette cheese (our cheesemaker, Jackie, recently made raclette using Wall Street Gold).

Our cheesemaker, Jackie Chang, with Wall Street Gold.

To your health

When it comes to pairings, Champagne and sparkling wines are the easiest things to match with cheese, regardless of style (stinky, bloomy, Alpine, etc.). Their effervescence cleanses the palate, and won’t clash with most flavors inherent to the cheese. If however, you’d like to take your pairing to the next level, keep reading.

A few years ago, I attended a seminar at the Après Ski & Cocktail Classic on pairing bubbly with fondue and raclette. The panel was led by Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy and Jim Butchart, Culinary Director of Aspen Skiing Company. McCoy suggests pairing fondue with a heavier weight sparkling wine, in order to cut through the butterfat. Rather than something light and sweet like Prosecco, go for “small-batch “grower Champagnes” like Aubrey or Pierre Péters, or, alternatively, an Alsatian Riesling or Grüner Veltliner.”

Butchart is more of a purist, preferring to pair Champagne with fondue, “due to the fact that they’re both celebratory indulgences that most people don’t allow themselves on the daily.” He suggests a crisp, fruit-forward Champagne to “refresh the palate, readying you for another dip of fondue.” Try an affordable brut style, such as Perrier Jouet Grande Brut or Guy Charlemagne Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru Reserve.

However you choose to celebrate, all of us at Haystack Mountain wish you a happy and safe New Year’s, and all the best for the coming year. Cheers to cheese!

Goat: The gift that keeps on giving

Photo credit: Heifer International

Photo credit: Heifer International

When I was growing up, my older brother and I raised dairy goats for 4-H. Thus, it was from an early age that I learned two things:

Male goats (young, uncastrated males are called bucklings; castrated goats are wethers) are a by-product of the dairy industry,

and,

By donating bucklings like ours to Heifer International, families in need worldwide are able to improve their breeding stock and thus earn a (viable) living.

The latter is the mission of Heifer International. Since 1944, the Little Rock, Arkansas-based nonprofit has provided livestock, animal husbandry and community development training to over 125 countries, with the goal of helping to “end world hunger and poverty.” That may sound like a lofty goal, but for nearly 75 years, Heifer has revitalized whole communities by creating agricultural co-ops, job skills, and commerce.

It's not all about goats for global food security. Photo credit: Heifer International

It’s not all about goats for global food security. Photo credit: Heifer International

Donating our goats to Heifer served a dual purpose in our household. My mom wasn’t comfortable selling them as meat animals, and because they were from top bloodlines, it made sense to use their genetics to diversify breeding stock, thus helping those in need. Donating to Heifer also made it easier to bid farewell to animals we’d named, bottle-fed and considered pets. Knowing they were destined to live overseas as revered breeding animals made a painful- and little-discussed- aspect of raising dairy animals less so, and for me, it sowed the proverbial seeds of a career spent educating consumers about sustainable agriculture.

Donating our goats to Heifer was the equivalent of being told to finish my dinner because there were “starving children in Africa.” But, the reality was- and is- that much of the world practices subsistence farming, and the gift of a dairy or meat animal can radically alter lives, enabling families to earn a sustainable living. As a result of improved genetics and economics (through the sale of by-products like milk, meat, eggs or fiber, as well as the muscle power provided by livestock like water buffalo and oxen), whole villages can thrive.

So, where does cheese (since we’re all about the cheese here at Haystack) fit into this global picture? Protein deficiency is a leading cause of malnutrition worldwide, and cheese and other dairy products provide a valuable dietary supplement. Cheese is also an important commodity product, and while not a staple food everywhere (climatic and religious factors play a role, which is why you don’t see cheese production in Southeast Asia or Africa, historically), dairy foods like milk, yogurt and butter are consumed worldwide. In countries like Nepal, which traditionally didn’t have a cheesemaking culture until the 1950s, the food has become an essential part of the diet and economy, thanks to foreign aid organizations.

img_4040

Yak milk supports this Nepali cheesemaker. Photo credit: Laurel Miller

While Heifer no longer accepts donations of live animals, they’ve implemented a way for everyone- from farmers to urbanites- to provide families throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe with livestock traditionally raised in their countries of origin. From goats, cattle and llamas to ducks, honeybees, rabbits and guinea pigs (known as cuy, the latter are a valuable food source in the Andes), you can donate tax-deductible funds that go toward a whole animal or animal share, which will go to a family in need.

It’s always wise to do your research before making donations to any aid organization; Heifer’s track record and data collection speak for themselves, and you can also choose to donate to their empowerment programs for women (which supply training in gender equality and business skills, and education for girls), as well as clean water, biogas cooking stoves, irrigation pumps, small business loans and more.

Donations to Heifer are affordable, too- for just $10, you can donate a goat share to a family in Africa, while $25 covers a water buffalo share. You can gift donations to family and friends through Heifer; their website enables you to create a personalized e-card. It’s not the latest version of Call of Duty or even a new pair of slippers, but there’s a certain cache to giving the gift of goat.

Happy holidays, from all of us at Haystack Mountain.

Photo credit: Heifer International

Photo credit: Heifer International

Making your (holiday) cheese plate great

Following a few hacks can make you a cheese plate master. Photo credit: Sam en Croute

Following a few tips can make you a cheese plate master. Photo credit: Sam en Croute

Cheese scares the bejeezus out of many people, especially when it comes to serving up a plate for dinner or party guests: The intimidation factor is similar to what plenty of folks experience when ordering or purchasing wine.

While there are indeed rules of thumb when it comes to the slicing, serving and pairing of cheese, I promise that the world will not come to an end if you or your party guests don’t follow them to the letter. The simple guidelines below will enable you to easily create a sweet or savory cheese plate that leave your guests swooning, and your bank account intact.

Less is more when it comes to serving cheese, so leave the fussy plating and overly-complex condiments in the dust and focus on the fun part: eating and socializing. You’re welcome.

Photo credit: Food Network

Photo credit: Food Network

Shopping

  • If you’re serving other food, allow one ounce of each cheese per person (16 ounces = 1 pound).
  • Limit your selection to three or four cheeses for up to 12 guests- more than that will blow out your palate.
  • There are no hard-and-fast rules- the cheese police will not arrive to cart you away. The important thing is achieving a balance of flavors and textures, as is choosing what you like. You can also use a theme to guide your purchases, like all goat’s milk, blues or aged cheeses. I recommend:
  • One creamy or mild cheese
  • One semi-soft washed rind (these are your stinky cheeses- like Red Cloud. Note that these smell more pungent than they taste) or bloomy-rind cheese (like our Haystack Peak, Camembert or Snowdrop- this style has a velvety white or grayish rind. Psst, the rind is always edible unless you’re dealing with a wax-coated or bandage-wrapped cheese).
  • One hard (aged) or blue cheese
Our Red Cloud funks up a savory cheese plate- we suggest pairing with beer.

Our Red Cloud funks up a savory cheese plate- we suggest pairing with beer.

Serving

  • Cheese is ideally plated clockwise, from mild to most intense- this prevents a strong cheese from overpowering the palate/other cheeses. Since policing your guests is a Party Fail, however, I suggest instead placing cheese cards on your selections so people know what they’re eating.
  • Simplicity is key: The cheese should be the star of the show, so don’t clutter the plate. Two or three seasonal condiments are ideal, not counting bread and/or crackers (the latter shouldn’t have strong flavors, either, to avoid the aforementioned overpowering issue).
  • This is time to bust out that antique serving platter, slab of marble or handcrafted wooden board. Don’t crowd cheeses and accompaniments; my preference is to serve anything drippy or gloppy in separate bowls, with miniature serving utensils (try caviar or salt cellar spoons or jam spreaders). Garnishes should be minimal, such as a sprig of herbs or edible flowers, or place the cheeses atop clean, dry (non-toxic) leaves.
  • No cheese knives? No problem. While each style serves a specific purpose, you can generally get away with using whatever you already own, such as a sharp paring knife and a butter knife (tip: stock up on vintage pieces at flea markets and antique stores).
  • How you cut cheese depends upon its shape and style.
Clutter just makes for confusion. Photo credit: That Cheese Plate

Clutter just makes for confusion. Photo credit: That Cheese Plate

Sweet or Savory?

A cheese plate should be one or the other (savory just means, “not sweet.”). If you’re planning to serve cheese before dinner or for a cocktail party or après ski, accompaniments like salami, pâté, ham or other cured meats are ideal. Provide small dishes of grainy mustard, marinated olives or pickled vegetables on the side, as well as slices of a hearty bread like rye or pumpernickel.

I also love toasted nuts and dried or fresh seasonal fruit (think sliced apples, pears, persimmon) in lieu of the mustard and pickles, for a more refined plate. Serve with hunks of baguette or a country-style levain.

Going for a dessert or pre-brunch plate? Sweet accompaniments like preserves, honeycomb and fresh seasonal or dried fruit are lovely with cheese- particularly soft styles or mild, creamy blues. Serve with rustic walnut levain or plain crackers.

A sweet cheese board, simply rendered. Photo credit: The Kitchn

A sweet cheese board, simply rendered. Photo credit: The Kitchn

A guide to common goat breeds

Photo credit: Gamsutra

Photo credit: Gamsutra

There are dozens of different goat breeds from around the world, but here in the U.S., we tend to see just a handful (sad, but true). Goat breeds fall into three main categories, depending upon their intended use: meat, milk, or fiber. Some breeds are used for cross-purposes.

As for why breed diversity is slim pickings Stateside, one needs to understand that we’re one of the few cultures in the world that doesn’t routinely eat goat. Goat is the most widely consumed meat worldwide, and a staple throughout Latin America, Africa, Central Asia the Caribbean, Middle East, and parts of Europe.

While goat is gaining ground on North American high-end and ethnic menus, we’re just too squeamish (and anthropomorphic) for it to catch on as a mainstream protein source. It’s a shame, because goat is good eating (look for future posts on this topic).

Cultures that consume goat meat also prize their milk as a source of vital protein and other nutrients, often in the form of yogurt or cheese. In certain parts of the world, goats are even used as pack animals. For most of the planet, goat and its by-products provide subsistence, and have serious economic, as well as social, value.

We also don’t prize goats for their fiber, although we’re all familiar with cashmere (derived from the fine, silky hair of the Kashmir or Cashmere goat, or Pygora or Nigora goats), and mohair, which comes from the Angora goat (not to be confused with the Angora rabbit, which is also used for its wool).

What North Americans love goats for (besides their inherent cuteness and ability to clear brush) is milk, primarily for use in cheesemaking. The most popular dairy breeds here mostly aren’t American in origin, but were brought to this country as dairy animals. Over the generations, due to improvements in breeding stock, these breeds have become prized for their various attributes, which range from milk yield and butterfat content, to temperament and mothering abilities.

Below, a guide to the most common American goat breeds:

Nubian: Although they have a rep for being a bit bratty and exceedingly vocal, this Middle Eastern/North African breed with the beguiling long ears and Roman nose produces high-butterfat milk. The Nubian’s yield is lower than that of other breeds, which is why they’re sometimes cross-bred. In color, they often have intricate spotted, patchy, or stripey patterns.

Photo credit: Buffalo Creek Farm

Photo credit: Buffalo Creek Farm

Alpine: These robust, prolific milkers originated in the French Alps, and are one of the most popular breeds amongst cheesemakers.

Photo credit: The Goat Guide

Photo credit: The Goat Guide

LaMancha: Despite its misleading name, this “earless” breed originated in Oregon in the 1930’s. LaMancha refers to the windswept plains region of central Spain, as the breed is believed to have likely descended from the native Murciana goat. LaMancha’s do have ears, of course; it’s the pinna, or external portion, that’s missing.  They’re prized for their high yields of butterfat-rich milk, friendly nature, and hardiness.

Photo credit: etcFN

Photo credit: etcFN

Toggenburg: This very old breed from the Switzerland’s Toggenburg Valley is the Honda of goats: mid-size, sturdy, and moderate (with regard to milk yield and butterfat content).

Photo credit: Goat Genetics

Photo credit: Goat Genetics

Saanen: One of the most “goaty” looking caprines, Saanens are white-to-cream in color, with forward-pointing, slightly floppy ears and a calm temperament. They have the highest milk yield, but a low butterfat content.

Photo credit: Patteran Dairy Goats

Photo credit: Patteran Dairy Goats

Oberhasli: If ever there were a goat beauty pageant, these gregarious, russet-to-bay animals with their black dorsal stripes, legs, and muzzles (a pattern known as “chamoisee”) would kill it. Oberhasli’s are growing in popularity here, but they originated in the Swiss Alps, where they’re widely used because of their high yield and butterfat content.

Photo credit: Tangled Roots Farm

Photo credit: Tangled Roots Farm

Nigerian Dwarf: These miniature goats  of West African origin. While some cheesemakers such as Oregon’s Pholia Farm use Nigerians for their production, the breed is really making its mark on the urban goat husbandry market. Most cities require backyard goats to be crossed with Nigerians or Pygmy goats, to keep them at a manageable size. Despite their small stature, Nigerian’s produce a high volume of milk, making them ideal for caprine-loving urbanites.

Photo credit: Kivuli Kids Farm

Photo credit: Kivuli Kids Farm

Stinky, funky, stanky: a guide to washed rind cheeses

Epoisses, the kind of funk. Cheeserank

Epoisses, the King of funk. Cheeserank

People have very strong feelings about certain types of cheese. Just the other night, I was at a bar with some friends, one of whom was keeping a death grip on a half-wheel of Epoisses I’d given him. For the uninitiated, Epoisses–which hails from Burgundy–is one of the most sublime cheeses on earth, but it’s also one of the most odiferous. The fumes from the cheese wafted across our table, practically hovering in a fog around us. Earlier in the day, we’d paired it with some Calvados, and the results were nothing short of revelatory.

Stinky cheeses possess what are known as “washed rinds.” When you hear a cheese likened to dirty feet or sweaty socks, funky armpits, or described as punchy, yeasty, beefy, meaty, or barnyard, chances are good it’s a washed rind. This style of cheese also possesses a signature rind, which is sticky and orangish, reddish, pinkish, or brownish in color. Their interior can range from soupy (cue the aforementioned Epoisses) to semi-firm.

Washed rinds get their name from their “make” process. They’re washed with brine (or beer, wine, grappa, brandy, etc.), which facilitates the growth of  Brevibacterium linens, or B. linens, a bacteria that  gives these cheeses their signature stink. It also prevents unwanted molds or bacteria from entering the cheese, while enabling good organisms to ripen it and develop its distinctive flavor. B. linens itself is responsible for the color, texture, and smell that are the hallmarks of most washed rind cheeses.

Haystack's Red Cloud

Haystack’s Red Cloud

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B. linens can exist naturally in the air where the cheese ages, but usually it’s added to the brine. The cheeses are usually washed as they age, as well. Cool trivia: B.linens also naturally  exists on the human body, which explains why these cheeses are often said to smell like feet. Despite their signature funk, bear in mind cheese of any type should never smell like ammonia, which is a sign it’s overripe. Washed rinds in particular are prone to this characteristic. As long as they’re not too far gone, you can remedy the situation by allowing them to air out for up to an hour before serving.

We love washed rinds, which is why we produce two versions of our own: Sunlight, and the award-winning Red Cloud. Both are punchy, semi-firm cheeses with flavors ranging from toasted almonds to freshly-cut grass (Sunlight is the less assertive of the two, although both are fairly mellow as washed rinds go).  To quote well-known cheesemonger and author Gordon Edgar of San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery Cooperative: “Red Cloud is an incredibly underrated cheese. Many people have tried — and failed — to make a raw milk, washed rind, goat cheese that is consistently good, but Haystack has this one down.  Red Cloud is firmer than you might imagine for this style, but is meaty, fruity, tangy, and complex.  This is one of my favorite American cheeses.

Photo credit: The Deals

Photo credit: The Deals

I can’t help noticing that men in particular seem to have a thing for washed rinds. Maybe it’s a holdover from their bachelor days, when they happily wallowed in their in their own filth, living amidst dirty clothes, sheets, and dishes. Perhaps it’s more primal than that: he who was the smelliest produced the most blatant pheromones in order to secure a mate.

Whatever the reason, dudes usually dig stinky cheese, in the same way they love beer. This is convenient, because washed rinds and beer are a love match like no other. This Valentine’s Day, give that someone special (even if that person is you, and even if you’re female) the gift of romance. Nothing says, “I love you” like a super funk cheese and a six-pack of craft brew.

Some pairing tips:

Belgian ales, Lambics, hard ciders, and IPA’s are particularly washed rind-friendly. The rule of thumb is to match intensities between beer and cheese, or strive for contrast (this also applies to wine, spirits, or N/A beverages). Pair beer with our Sunlight or Red Cloud, or world-class cheeses such as Munster (the real deal is a primo soft, stinky cheese from Alsace; Muenster is a semi-soft American invention that is fairly bland); Livarot; Pont l’Eveque, or Taleggio. For domestics, we love Rush Creek Reserve (Uplands Cheese Company), Red Hawk (Cowgirl Creamery), and Grayson (Meadow Creek Dairy).

 

The “solid” facts about winter cheesemaking

Milking time at Hacienda Zuleta, Ecuador. Photo credit: Laurel Miller

Milking time at Hacienda Zuleta, Ecuador. Photo credit: Laurel Miller

Most people don’t realize that cheese is a seasonal product. Since its discovery sometime around 2000 BC, fresh cheese has been a way to use surplus milk. The process of aging cheese is actually one of the earliest methods of food preservation, and provided crucial protein and other nutrients during the lean winter months, when certain species of dairy animals don’t usually lactate.

Despite advances in the dairy industry over the centuries, cheesemaking has changed little, and on a small scale, remains a highly seasonal endeavor. Since milk is the main ingredient in cheese, it’s important to understand how its chemical composition changes over the course of a year. These factors are additionally influenced by species, breed, terrain, and climate.

Milk comes from lactating mammals, i.e., those that have recently given birth. In the case of cheese, that milk comes from a ruminant, or cud-chewing mammal with a four-chambered stomach. The stomachs of ruminants are specially adapted to break down their entirely plant-based diet.

Now, think about the seasonal nature of grasses and other woody, leafy plants (goats are browsers, rather than grazers, and so prefer to strip branches of shrubs and trees or nibble thorny grasses to obtain nutrients). Here in Colorado, pasture is either covered in snow, or fairly barren, as is the case with our high-desert dairy in Cañon City. In that part of the state, there’s little in the way of forage for goats, even during the spring and summer months, which is why we supplement our goats’ diet with alfalfa hay and grain year- round.

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Time for milking at the Skyline Correctional Center dairy in Canon City, Colorado. Photo credit: Barry Staver

The change in diet is one major reason why milk undergoes compositional changes with the seasons. In the case of our herd, the biggest change that we see is in the ratio of solids (fats and proteins) in the milk, which become higher in winter.

Climate changes can also affect milk. There’s  a sharp contrast in seasonal temperature in Colorado (in Cañon City, it routinely tops 100 degrees in summer,  and drops to the mid-20s in winter). Goats are naturally inclined to drink more water in hot weather (which is also generally when they’re lactating), which results in lower levels of milk solids during the summer months. The variance in milk solids requires our cheesemaker to carefully review their levels and make slight recipe adjustments throughout the year.

The timing of breeding season also depends upon goat breed and climate. Goats naturally lactate for up to 10 months after kidding. Ideally, they’ll be given a break before being bred again, to allow their bodies to regain strength. For a cheese company of our size- we maintain a herd of 1,100 milkers- we can stagger the breeding. This enables us to keep a small, but continuous, supply of milk throughout the year, so we can continue to make cheese. Like us, many cheesemakers also have aged cheese in their line, so they have product to sell during the winter months.

Fortunately, our does have just started kidding again, and a plentiful supply of milk and bouncy baby goats are just around the corner. We look forward to seeing you soon at the farmers markets!

For more detailed information on goat milk composition, go to the DRINC (Dairy Research & Information Center, UC Davis) website.

 

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