I don’t eat dairy, so enjoy all sorts of goat and sheep cheeses. I found this article by Janet Rausa Fuller in Epicurious.
When you hear “goat cheese,” what probably comes to mind is that little white log: fresh chevre, creamy, tangy deliciousness.
It’s a good starting point. From there, goat cheese can run the gamut from firm to funky to crumbly to melty to nutty, you name it. Basically, anything cow or sheep’s milk can do, goat’s milk can do just as well—or better.
Here’s a rundown of what you need to know on your next goat cheese excursion.
You know how the cream in raw cow’s milk rises to the top? It doesn’t in goat’s milk. That’s because the fat molecules in goat’s milk are smaller and finer.
Think of it this way: Goat milk is naturally homogenized. It’s also more digestible and has less lactose than cow’s milk. When that milk is turned into fresh cheese, “It’s a whole different ball game,” Schad said. “That texture is going to be like silk in your mouth.”
By the way, the flavor of the milk has little to do with what goats eat. “It’s what they’re smelling right before they produce milk that transfers over,” Impress your party guests with that one next time.
Used to be, spring was goat cheese season. Breeding happens in the fall and into early winter, so baby goats (and therefor goat milk) happened in the spring. But year-round demand means you can find goat cheese all the time, though artisans say the time of year can affect production.
“We get almost twice as much milk from our goat producers in the spring and summer as we do in the fall, which is why we started making aged cheeses to begin with, so we’d have cheeses that could hold.”
WHAT’S YOUR STYLE?
Goat cheese can be fresh (unripened) or ripened. Texture and flavor vary quite a bit beyond that depending how the cheese was made.
Fresh goat cheese is soft, young and not always log-shaped. Soft- or surface-ripened goat cheese develops a white or sometimes wrinkly rind as it ages over weeks; texture-wise, it can range from creamy to crumbly. Aged goat cheese is firm, ripened over a longer period and can be quite complex and pungent.
BUY JUST ENOUGH
Goat cheese is like bread or wine, to be enjoyed once you crack it open. So this is not the time for bulk shopping. Buy what you know you’re going to eat within seven days.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Plastic wrap invites unwanted mold, so avoid it if you can. “What happens if you put mushrooms in a plastic bag for a week? It’s the same thing.”
If you have a cheesemonger who lets you sample before you buy, who can slice to order, who constantly refreshes the case, who uses paper, not plastic, wrap … fantastic. That’s ideal—and probably not the situation at your average supermarket. Still, you can take steps to find the best options wherever you shop.
Fresh goat cheese should feel firm, not mushy, “otherwise you’re paying for water,”. For vacuum-sealed cheese, avoid excess liquid, leakage and any off-colors. For varieties with rind that have already been cut into, look for any separation between the rind and the cheese — you don’t want that. If it looks dried out as if it’s been sitting there a while, it probably has been.
LET IT BREATHE
Goat cheese—any cheese—needs humidity and some room to breathe. If you missed it the first (and second and third) time, here it is again: Plastic wrap BAD.
Vacuum-wrapped chevre from the grocery store can keep, unopened, for at least two months. But once opened, take it out of the packaging and store in a lidded plastic or glass container in the refrigerator.
For varieties with rind that didn’t come in paper, wrap first in wax paper and then in plastic and store in the refrigerator drawer. “You’re creating a layer of breathability.”
CHECK, SCRAPE, TOSS
And remember: You’re buying goat cheese to eat within a week, not to see how long it’ll keep in the fridge. Eat the fresh stuff within days, and check on the aged and softer ripened types every other day or so.
When you do, scrape off the surface with a knife and rewrap in a new layer of wax paper, then plastic wrap. While a spot of gray or brown mold isn’t cause for alarm, bright yellow or pink mold is, Schad says.
If your goat cheese tastes sour or way goat-ier than you think it should, toss that, too.
Quotes are by Schad, proprietor of Capriole in Indiana, one of the nation’s foremost makers of goat cheese. Naturally, she has much to say about the stuff, from what makes it so distinct (the fat molecules in the milk) to why plastic wrap is the enemy (hello, suffocation).