Goat cheese can elicit strong reactions. Either people love it, or they hate it. For goat cheese lovers, there are endless varieties of goat cheese to try. For those of you who haven't fallen in love yet, don't give up on goat cheese entirely. There are so many different types of goat cheese, each with its own unique flavor and texture. You can begin to learn more about goat cheese by making a fresh version at home.
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How Goat Cheese Is Made
The production of goat cheese follows many of the same basic cheesemaking steps as other types of cheese:
Gathering the Milk
Some cheesemakers source their milk from nearby farms, others own goats and do the milking themselves.
Pasteurized or Unpasteurized
Some cheesemakers pasteurize their milk, others do not. In the United States, cheese made from raw milk must be aged for at least 60 days before it is sold. Therefore, fresh goat cheese (aged less than 60 days) in the U.S. is always made from pasteurized milk.
Starter culture is added to the milk to change lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid and alter the acidity level of the milk. This kick-starts the thickening of the milk into curds. Rennet is then added to further encourage curds to form. If you're making goat cheese at home, you can use a shortcut method without rennet and starter (see recipe below).
Separating Curds and Whey
For very soft cheese, like fresh goat cheese, the curds might just be wrapped in cheesecloth and hung so moisture drips out of the curds. For most other cheese, the curds are cut using a knife or a tool that resembles a rake. Cutting and pressing the curds further encourages them to expel liquid or whey. Soft cheese is cut into large curds; harder cheese is cut into tiny curds so that as much moisture drains out as possible.
This adds flavor and acts as a preservative.
The curds are put into some sort of form, such as a basket, mold, or ring to form a shape. Fresh goat cheese comes in many different shapes, such as logs, pucks, crottins, and pyramids, or it is sold unformed in a container. Semihard or hard goat cheese is often sold in wheels.
Fresh goat cheese ripens (ages) for only a few days or weeks. Other types of goat cheese age for many months.
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How to Make Goat Cheese at Home
You can certainly make goat cheese at home using starter culture and rennet.
- Heat 1 quart of goat's milk until it just reaches a gentle boil.
- Turn off the heat and add 1/4 cup (or slightly more) lemon juice or white vinegar.
- Let set 10 minutes, so curds form.
- Pour the curds into a cheesecloth.
- Bundle the cheesecloth around the curds and hang the bundle, so the moisture drips out for 1 to 2 hours. (You can do this over the kitchen sink. Hang the cheesecloth from the faucet.)
- Mix the curds with salt and other seasonings.
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The Different Types of Goat Cheese
There are so many different types of goat cheese sold in cheese shops that it's impossible to keep track of them all. You will, however, find that they all fall into several categories:
Fresh Goat Cheese
Also called chèvre (the French word for goat). Fresh goat cheese covers any type of goat's milk cheese that is soft and often spreadable. It can be sold loose in containers or in various shapes such as logs and round pucks. In cheese shops, look for Chevrot, Petit Billy, and Bûcheron.
Ash-Covered Goat Cheese
A subcategory of fresh goat cheese. Ash-covered goat cheese has a thin bluish-gray rind made of ash. This rind both protects the cheese and gives it visual appeal. In cheese shops, look for Selles-sur-Cher, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, and Acapella. One type of popular goat cheese, Humboldt Fog, has a line of ash through the middle of the cheese.
Aged Goat Cheese
Any type of goat cheese that has been aged until it has a semihard or hard texture. In many cases, aged goat cheese has a less tangy, "goaty" flavor. The flavor ranges from nutty to sweet to sharp. In cheese shops, look for goat's milk Gouda, Garrotxa, and Drunken Goat.