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.

doingtime_9

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.

 

Recipe: Winter Squash Soup with Applewood Smoked Chevre

Photo credit: Bourbon and Brown Sugar

Photo credit: Bourbon and Brown Sugar

Baby, it’s cold outside. Snuggle up with a bowl of this rich, sweet, filling soup, heaped with smoky chevre. Mmmmm.

serves 6Smoked Chevre Soup

1 large kabocha or medium butternut squash, about 4 lbs.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 slices bacon, diced

1 large yellow onion, chopped

6 cups chicken stock

1/2 cups heavy cream

juice of one orange

salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

extra virgin olive oil, for garnish

fried sage leaves, for garnish*

4 ounces Haystack Mountain Applewood Smoked Chevre, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Halve squash lengthwise, and place cut side down on an oiled baking sheet.  Bake until  squash can be easily skewered with tip of a paring knife, about 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool.  With a spoon, remove seeds and discard.  Scrape the pulp and reserve in a bowl.  Discard the skin.

Melt one tablespoon of butter in a stockpot over medium heat.  Add the bacon and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and the bacon is just turning golden, about 7 minutes.  Add the squash and chicken stock, and simmer until the squash falls apart, about 30 minutes.  Let cool for about 20 minutes.

Working in small batches, puree the soup in a blender (don’t fill it more than half-way, or the hot soup can explode from the container) until very smooth.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer or chinois into a clean stockpot, and add the cream and orange juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  If the soup is too thick, thin it with a bit of stock or water, and reheat if necessary

Ladle the soup into hot bowls, and garnish with a drizzle of the olive oil. Crumble a bit of chevre over each bowl, garnish with *two sage leaves (fry them lightly in olive oil until crisp), and serve immediately.

©Laurel Miller, The Sustainable Kitchen ®, 1999.

Knifestyles of the rich and buttery

Photo credit: Design Mom

Photo credit: Design Mom

We’re big believers in doing things old-school: making and packaging our cheese by hand, rather than machine, and steering clear of processed ingredients or preservatives.

So, when it comes to casually serving cheese, we’ve also been known to use whatever type of knife is handy. With this admission out of the way, we’d like to confess that there are four main styles of cheese knives, and each has a specific purpose.

We promise the Cheese Police won’t beat down your door if you continue to cut and serve cheese with your trusty paring knife. But if you’re a true caseophile or entertain frequently, we suggest you invest in some nice cheese knives. You can find beautifully-crafted ones for under $20, as well as more spendy, hand-forged versions.
Know what makes a great host(ess) gift? A set of cheese knives. So much more on-trend than a bottle of (yawn) wine. We asked Will Frishkorn, co-owner/cheese-slinger at Boulder’s Cured, what his favorite cheese knife is among their inventory.

Says Will, “While the Swissmar knives run the entire range, their soft cheese knife is one that we use more than any other at home.  Slim, with the ability to cleanly work on almost any delicate cheese, it’s the one specialized cheese knife you shouldn’t be without.”

      To find out more about this soft  knives and other cheese implements, read on:
  • Cheese cleaver: This mini-version of a meat cleaver may have a pointed or flat head. It’s used for slicing or breaking off shards from dense cheeses such as our Queso de Mano, aged Cheddars, or Gouda.
  • Cheese plane (planer): This tool is a flat, stainless-steel triangle with a sharp-edged slot in its center. You drag the plane across the top of the cheese, and it shaves off thin, even slices. A thinner slice exposes a greater amount of surface area to the air; the result is more flavor from the cheese. A cheese plane is used for harder cheeses such as our limited-release Wallstreet Gold, Gruyère, and Grana Padano.
  • Soft-cheese knife: Also known as a skeleton knife, this offset knife has a curved tip that often has a forked tip. A soft-cheese knife has holes punched in its blade, which minimizes the surface area that makes contact with the cheese. This prevents cheese from sticking to the knife as its cut and served, making for a cleaner, more attractive slice with less waste left on the blade. Ideal for soft, creamy cheeses such as our Snowdrop, Haystack Peak, or Camembert, or soft blues.
  • Spreader: Ideal for fresh chevre, ricotta, and other soft, rindless cheeses with a spreadable consistency—as well as for butter.

 

Holiday cheese pairing tips: Beer rules!

Photo credit: Drunk Sunshine

Photo credit: Drunk Sunshine

Perhaps one of the most intimidating aspects of cheese is how and what to pair it with. Allow us to reassure you of two important points:

  • Cheese is easier to pair with beer than wine. The tannins, acids, and oak (when used for aging) in wine can be problematic when pairing with cheese, whereas beer and cheese have similar production methods (they’re both grain-based, fermented products, and tend to have similar flavor profiles).
  • While there are some key tips to follow with regard to pairing, there are  exceptions to every rule. The bottom line, in our opinion, is to eat and drink what you enjoy, and dissenters and haters be damned!

Still, we think it’s helpful to provide pairing rules of thumb, because a good match is, in the words of a cheesemonger we know, like a good marriage. Both parties should have their own, distinct, positive qualities, but when combined, magic happens.

Plays well with others. Photo credit: Healthy Recipe Ecstasy

Plays well with others. Photo credit: Healthy Recipe Ecstasy

Read on for what we feel are the most crucial points to remember in pairing cheese, be it with wine, beer, spirits, or “dry” or other specialty sodas.

  • Match intensities. For example, a big, bold, young Cabernet Sauvignon or chocolatey Stout will completely overpower many cheeses. Conversely, a soft, delicate varietal will be lost when paired with a super funky or sharp cheese.
  • Bear in mind terroir. Don’t just assume “this grape varietal will go with this cheese,” because variations in climate, geography, vintage, and production method vary greatly. The same is true of cheese. Ultimately, tasting before you buy or serve is the best way to determine if you have a match; barring that, talk to your cheesemonger, or refer to this handy post!
  • Aim for similarties or contrasts. A rich, buttery cheese such as a triple crème or brie will go well with a wine or beer with similar qualities. That said, too much butteriness is overkill. You want your palate to be refreshed and cleansed by the beverage. Strive for balance, and when in doubt, bubbles go with every style of cheese.
  • Think about what you’re trying to achieve. If you have a super bomb, special cheese, talk to your local wine shop about what to serve with it.  Conversely, if you have a rare, 1959 Chateau Lafite, you want to make sure you find a cheese that does it justice.

Some of our favorite pairings for Haystack cheeses follow. Use them as a guideline for pairing similar styles:

Camembert or othery earthy, mushroomy bloomy-rinds: Beaujolais or other soft, fruity-driven red wines.

Snowdrop or other floral, grassy bloomy rinds: Sauvignon Blanc, Lambic, or Belgian Ales.

Haystack Peak or other grassy, slighty salty/ash-coated bloomy-rinds: Fruit-driven white wines like Pinots Gris, lambics, or Pilsner.

Queso de Mano or other nutty cheeses: Hefeweizen or light-to-full-bodied red wines.

Sunlight or Red Cloud or other stinky/washed rind cheeses: Bring on the beer, baby! Belgians, ales, hard cider, lambic, or floral IPA’s. Wine? Try fruit-driven whites like a dry Riesling.

From pilsners to porters, all beers pair well with cheese. Photo credit: Vine Pair

From pilsners to porters, all beers pair well with cheese. Photo credit: Vine Pair

 

 

 

 

Milk does a body really, really good.

Taking a dip in dairy is hardly new; no less than Cleopatra was said to have bathed in asses’ milk. Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which have been scientifically proven to improve the look and feel of human skin. Whether it’s derived from cow, sheep, or goat (speaking from a strictly practical–and not too gross–perspective), all milk contains lactic acid. Yet the caprine variety appears to reign superior when it comes to skin soothing.

Don’t believe us? Stop by our creamery to check out our cheesemaker Jackie Chang’s arms, which spend their days immersed in creamy goat’s milk. Her skin is freakishly soft and youthful-looking.

Photo credit: Montello Rotary Club

Photo credit: Montello Rotary Club

Over the last few years, goat milk-infused beauty products have reached, er, saturation point, but we’re not complaining. We love our goat milk soap (handcrafted by Haystack founder Jim Schott’s wife, Carol), which are so delicious-smelling and pure, we’re tempted to snack on them (at least, the Rosemary-Lemon-Mint, and Coffee varieties).

Goat milk, due to its chemical composition, is especially gentle and nourishing for those with sensitive or otherwise reactive skin (aka everyone in Colorado). Here are some of our other favorite, goaty beautifying products…although we can’t guarantee how good they’ll taste.

 Goat Milk Stuff: These no-frills farmstead products–liquid and bar soaps, lotion, lip balm, and laundry soap–are produced on a family farm and free of unecessary additives and stuff you can’t pronounce.

Second Bloom Farm: Perhaps the most luscious array of goat milk products ever, made on a New Mexican goat dairy. We discovered these over a decade ago at the Santa Fe farmers market, and still long for their discontinued liquid laundry soap (the smell was downright intoxicating). Soaps, balms, and lotions in scents from Almond and Spanish anise to Lemon Verbena and Coconut Dream.

Kate Somerville: While the price isn’t as nice, this is an amazing product line. Try the rich Goat Milk Cream for irritated facial skin, or the absorbent Goat Milk Body Lotion.

Most local drugstores carry goat milk beauty products (Canus is a pretty ubiquitous brand), but we find farmers markets, specialty food stores, co-ops, and skincare shops all great places to find locally-made products. Wishing you soft skin this winter!

 

Recipe: Grilled Sausage with Grapes, Wilted Bitter Greens, and Queso de Mano

Photo credit: BBC Good Food

Photo credit: BBC Good Food

In honor of American Cheese Month and this weekend’s Great American Beer Festival, we came up with a recipe that celebrates both:

GRILLED SAUSAGE WITH GRAPES, WILTED GREENS, AND QUESO DE MANO

This rustic, hearty dish is ideal for chilly nights. Serve with crusty bread for sopping up the juices, and a great lager.

Serves four

8 good-quality pork sausages, such as sweet or hot Italian

1/2 bunch seedless purple table grapes, washed, and stemmed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Extra virgin olive oil, (approximately 2-3 tablespoons)

Two sprigs thyme

1 medium shallot, finely minced

1/8 to 1/4 cup red wine

5  handfuls young arugula or other baby bitter greens

1/4 pound Queso de Mano, shaved with a vegetable peeler

 

Preheat the grill until coals are white hot, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On an unlined baking sheet,  toss the grapes with just enough olive oil to lightly coat them; then season with salt and pepper, add the thyme, and toss once again to distribute seasoning.

Roast for 15 minutes, checking grapes every 5 minutes and using a spatula to move them around. The grapes are done when they’re slightly golden and a bit shriveled, and have released some of their juices.

Remove the pan of grapes from the oven; the juices should have caramelized somewhat. Pour the red wine into the hot pan, and use a spatula to scrape up the caramelized bits, being careful not to squash the grapes. Allow the residual heat from the pan to evaporate most of the wine so that you’re left with a thin glaze. Scrape the contents of baking sheet into a small frying pan and set aside.

While grapes are roasting, add the sausages to grill.Cookuntil done, place on a clean plate, and cover with foil to retain heat.

Reheat the grapes and glaze in the frying pan over medium-high heat, adding a bit more wine if necessary. Check seasoning, and remove from heat.

Divide the arugula amongst four dinner plates, making a mound of it in the center of each. Add two sausages to each plate, and then top with the grape/glaze mixture. Garnish the top of each with shaved Queso de Mano (use a vegetable peeler).

©The Sustainable Kitchen ®

Recipe: Haystack Mountain Chevre Cheesecake

Photo credit: Food Network

Crust:
A traditional graham cracker crust. Combine these ingredients and press into 9″ springform pan:
1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. melted butter
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until crust sets up.

Filling:
Cream in mixer until fluffy:
12 oz Haystack Goat Cheese (Chèvre Spread or Boulder Chèvre)
12 oz Cream Cheese
3 cups dairy sour cream
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
zest of 2 lemons, minced
juice of 2 lemons
zest of 1 orange, minced
juice of 1 orange

Pour gently into pre-baked crust and bake at 275 degrees for 2 hours until puffed and cooked in center. Let cool entirely before removing from pan. Refrigerate prior to serving. Can be served plain or with fresh berries or fruit.

Recipe: Fried Squash Blossoms with Chevre

Photo credit: Gouramanda

Photo credit: Gouramanda

12 squash blossoms
8 ounces Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese
Assorted chopped fresh herbs (such as chive, garlic chive, basil, thyme, oregano, etc.)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg beaten with 2 Tbsp. water
Flour for dipping
Olive oil for sautéing

Mix herbs and cheese. Thin with a little milk if necessary to make a spreadable consistency. Wash the blossoms and tear them in half lengthwise. Carefully, spread the blossoms with the cheese mixture and fold back over to seal the blossom. Dip in egg, and then flour. Drop into hot oil and sauté for 3 minutes on each side. Serve immediately.

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