What is the Difference Between Cow Cheese and Goat Cheese?

We came across this article written by Dan Nosowitz in Modern Farmer and thought it would be of interest to our BC Farm Fresh cheese lovers.

Cow milk is what comes to mind for most people when thinking about what to put on their cereal and for making cheese, yogurt, kefir, ice cream, and the many other types of dairy products. Some may be surprised to learn that goat milk is very prevalent and commonly found on kitchen tables in many cultures around the world. Goat milk is as versatile as cow milk in just about every area.

The distinctive flavor of goat cheese has earned its niche in the world of delicacy flavors found in fine delis, restaurants, and gourmet supermarkets. For some, that distinctive taste is the reason for a preference for goat milk products; for others it is a reason to prefer cow milk!

Sheep and goats were likely the first domesticated livestock animals, and it’s for that reason that historians believe their milk was the first to be turned into cheese, possibly as early as 6500 BC. Now, goat’s milk cheese is now found all over the world. 

Just as with cow (or sheep, or yak or camel, for that matter) cheese, goat’s milk cheese is made by coagulating the solids in milk, separating those solids (curds) from the liquids (whey), and then, maybe, aging it. Goat’s milk can be coagulated with rennet (enzymes produced in the stomachs of, usually, cows), which is the method you’d use for an aged goat cheese. Or you can go even simpler and just use an acid like vinegar or lemon juice, which is how you make fresh cheeses like ricotta, cottage cheese, and queso blanco.

But from there, things change. Goat cheese doesn’t taste or feel like cow cheese mainly because goat’s milk has a much higher concentration of particular and different fatty acids, but less milk protein, than cow’s milk. The higher concentration of fatty acids gives goat cheese its signature tangy flavor, and the lower amount of milk protein gives it a smoother, creamier texture.

Without as much milk protein, goat milk has trouble doing some of the crazy stuff cow milk can do. It’s not quite as strong or as stretchy as cow milk, which is why you won’t be seeing too much goat milk mozzarella—a goat’s milk cheese would just sort of fall apart.

But goat cheese’s lack of strength isn’t really a weakness; it’s just different. Its tanginess and creaminess makes it ideal for very soft cheeses, like chevre, or even yogurts. Even a firmer goat cheese, like the Catalan garrotxa, never really gets hard; it remains semi-soft, while taking on an aged flavor in a very quick few weeks. (Parmigiano, in contrast, is aged for years.) Interestingly, aging goat cheese seems to mellow it out a bit; fresh chevre is about the most intensely sour goat cheese you can get.

Goat’s milk can also sometimes be used in place of other milks to create slightly different variations on cheeses. Feta, for example, is traditionally made with sheep’s milk, but goat’s milk works just fine. Soft cheeses like brie can be comfortably made from goat’s milk, and the results can be fantastic. And even semisoft cheeses, like Gouda, can benefit from the creaminess of goat’s milk.

So go out and try some goat cheese! We have three farms that have their own goats and make their own cheese: The Farm House Natural Cheese, Goat’s Pride Dairy at McLennan Creek and Milner Valley Cheese. Several other farms also sell goat cheese.

Thanks to Milner Valley Cheese for the pictures.