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All about Goat Cheese
Fresh chèvre often overshadows other styles of cheese made with goat’s milk. From France’s Valençay to Vermont’s Bijou, here are 15 cheeses you should know.
Published Apr. 15, 2021.
Laura Chenel Original Fresh Goat Cheese Log
What You Need To Know
You can make a lovely, eclectic cheese plate using only goat cheese. That’s how much this category of cheese varies. Logs of fresh chèvre are lemony and spreadable. Some styles of goat cheese age for several months and are much firmer and quite complex, the natural sweetness of the milk turned nutty and caramelly in flavor. And plenty of other goat cheeses, having aged just a week or two, exhibit a combination of textures. Their dry, crumbly centers are surrounded by delightfully gooey and delicate exteriors.
If the range of flavors and textures in goat cheeses comes as a surprise to you, you’re in excellent company. When I worked as a cheesemonger, many shoppers assumed that fresh chèvre was the only goat cheese around. Back then, I would cut samples from a few different goat cheeses and hand them over the counter. Now I have the opportunity to write about them. The goal is the same: to celebrate a broad category of cheese and help people find something they love. With input from experts, I put together a list of 15 goat cheeses. Nine are produced in the United States and six are made abroad. Some have been made for centuries, and two were introduced within the past few years. Two are fresh chèvres, while the rest have been aged for a period of several days or even several months. Each of these goat cheeses is excellent, and together they showcase the range of goat’s-milk cheeses available.
The Basics of Making Cheese with Goat’s Milk
As with all cheese, the quality of the milk used to make it is of utmost importance. Among other things, it’s influenced by the breed of goat, the goats’ diets, and the time of year. Goat’s milk is also unique in color and composition. Due to how the animals process the orange-hued plant pigment beta-carotene, their milk is a brighter white than cow’s or sheep’s milk. The protein casein is distributed differently than in other milks, which may explain why some people with allergies to casein find goat’s milk easier to digest. Both things are also true of cheeses made with goat’s milk.
The milk used for most of the goat cheeses produced in the United States is pasteurized. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits the sale of raw-milk cheese younger than 60 days, and few American goat cheeses are aged that long.) In France, where young raw-milk cheeses are common, cheesemakers often make pasteurized versions of their cheeses specifically for export. Valençay and Sainte-Maure de Touraine are two centuries-old French raw-milk cheeses that are available only in pasteurized form in the United States.
Whether the milk is raw or pasteurized, there are two main ways to tu...
Everything We Tested
Domestic Goat Cheeses - California
Tasting Notes: Like all well-made chèvre, this snowy-white log is delicate and versatile. A generous amount of salt brings out ample bright and citrusy flavors. It’s superspreadable but can be easily crumbled for cooking or sprinkling over a salad or pasta.
Background: The story is legendary: In 1981, Alice Waters placed a standing order for Laura Chenel’s fresh chèvre, which she then sliced into medallions, baked, and served atop a mixed greens salad at her Berkeley, California, restaurant Chez Panisse. The cheese, the cheesemaker, and the salad all became famous. Like many of her contemporaries, Chenel first kept goats to provide her family with milk. She began making cheese as a way of preserving the excess.
Available for purchase at: www.northbaycreameries.com
Tasting Notes: This American original is instantly recognizable due to the thin layer of ash that runs through the cheese’s bright-white center. As it ages, the creamline increases in size and becomes lush and downright satiny. At the center, the cheese remains firm and crumbly. It’s bright, floral, and creamy.
Background: At first, Mary Keehn simply wanted to have fresh goat’s milk for her daughters. When she started making cheese with the excess milk, it was out of necessity. After first selling at an honor-system roadside stand, she founded the now-iconic Cypress Grove in 1983. Almost a decade later, while she was flying back from a trip to France, a new cheese that would eventually be known as Humboldt Fog appeared to her in a dream. Keehn envisioned the thin layer of ash feathering when the wheels were sliced, resembling the fog in Humboldt County, California, where Cypress Grove is located.
Available for purchase at: www.murrayscheese.com/humboldt-fog
Domestic Goat Cheeses - Indiana
Tasting Notes: This sweet, citrusy, and slightly floral cheese is very delicate in both flavor and texture. It picks up just a hint of vanilla or earthiness from the bourbon-marinated chestnut leaves that surround it. Though the cheese is dense, it’s also light and almost cloudlike.
Background: Started by Judy Schad and her family in 1988, Capriole was among the handful of small, women-led creameries that shifted many Americans’ perceptions of goat cheese. They also blazed a trail for future generations of goat cheese manufacturers. O’Banon is an American take on the leaf-wrapped French goat cheese Banon. The cheese is wrapped by hand in chestnut leaves and tied with raffia. Both when wrapped and after the leaves are fanned out, it’s striking.
Available for purchase at: www.murrayscheese.com/obanon
Domestic Goat Cheeses - Vermont
Tasting Notes: Combining qualities of Brie and fresh chèvre, this cheese is elegant and delicate. The bloomy rind is paper-thin and mild, with a little ash poking through in places. The cheese is fairly firm and sliceable, though a softer and delightfully squishy layer develops around the edges. The layers remain very distinct, even as the cheese ages. It’s tangy with a gentle, pleasant goaty flavor.
Background: After learning the ropes from Laini Fondiller of Vermont’s famed Lazy Lady Farm, Rebecca Velazquez founded a creamery with her husband, Merlin Backus. Backus milks the goats, Velazquez makes the cheese, and they can each see each other work through the window in the wall separating the barn from the cheese-making room. Each of their cheeses is named for the maiden name of a woman in their families, a nod to dairy’s matriarchal roots.
Available for purchase: www.saxelbycheese.com/collections/cheese/products/cowles
Tasting Notes: These hand-shaped buttons of aged goat cheese are vibrantly flavored: lemony, salty, sweet, and a little yeasty. Initially firm with a dense and fudgy center, the cheese becomes delightfully soft and supple as it ages, especially close to the delicate rind. Though most commonly served on a cheese plate, Bijou can also be sliced or quartered and broiled for use on a salad or on top of toast.
Background: Vermont Creamery, founded by business partners Allison Hooper and Bob Reese in 1984, was one of the first companies to produce French-inspired goat cheese and crème fraîche in the United States. The distinctive wrinkled rind on its aged cheeses is due to the mold-like yeast Geotrichum candidum. Bijou (which means “jewel” in French) is a type of crottin, a small, round goat’s-milk cheese that originated in France’s Loire Valley. Vermont Creamery also produces several aged cheeses made entirely or in part with cow’s milk, including the excellent Cremont.
Available for purchase at: www.murrayscheese.com/bijou
Tasting Notes: This semifirm raw-milk cheese is nutty, floral, and pleasantly goaty. It’s slightly musky and even peppery, especially near the rind. In addition to complex flavor, it boasts a delightfully smooth texture. It’s firm and easy to slice.
Background: Since 2005, Michael Lee and Emily Sunderman have owned and operated Vermont’s Twig Farm. They specialize in aged cheeses similar to those found in the French Pyrenees, and the Goat Tomme is their flagship. The cheese is handmade from March through November, and its flavor and texture both shift throughout the year due to the change in season and the goats’ diets. However, it always tastes complex.
Available for purchase at: www.saxelbycheese.com/collections/cheese/products/goat-tomme
Domestic Goat Cheeses - Massachusetts
Tasting Notes: The interior resembles other logs of young goat cheeses: bright white, with a dry and dense center surrounded by a thin creamline. But because of the powdery coating of blue mold on its exterior, it has the piquancy and funk of a blue cheese. It becomes more pungent and softer as it ages.
Background: Founded in Massachusetts in 1971, Westfield Farm was among the first farmstead goat creameries that sprouted up around the country in the 1970s and 1980s. The Classic Blue Log is its flagship cheese. The curds are inoculated with blue mold and allowed to sit for about a week before being formed into logs. After about five days, a bright-blue, powdery rind forms on the logs. Because oxygen isn’t introduced to the center of the cheese (as it is for other blue cheeses), it doesn’t develop veining through the center. The mold grows only on the exterior.
Tagline: Blue cheese meets goat cheese.
Available for purchase at: westfield-farm.myshopify.com
Imported Goat Cheeses - France
Tasting Notes: A thin, mottled gray ash rind covers a bright-white, supersmooth, and uniform interior. It’s lemony and slightly salty, with hints of fruit, nuts, and hay. Even with that range of flavors, it’s fairly mild overall and has a very clean finish.
Background: Legend has it that Prince de Talleyrand worried that the pyramid shape of Valençay would remind Napoleon of his failed campaign in Egypt, so he lopped off the top of the cheese and insisted that the cheese form remain a truncated pyramid. Although Valençay is traditionally made with raw goat’s milk, only pasteurized versions are available in the United States.
Available for purchase at: www.murrayscheese.com/valencay
Tasting Notes: Always buttery-smooth and creamy, this grayish-blue log can be either dense and firm or fairly moist. When it’s at its ripest, the exterior becomes almost melty. It’s piquant, nutty, and a little goaty.
Background: These petite logs are named for the city of Tours in west-central France and have been made since the ninth century, when the Moorish invasion brought goat breeding to the area. The delicate and distinctive mottled gray exterior is due to the application of salted ash, which changes the appearance of the cheese and influences how it matures but doesn’t add any flavor of its own. It’s traditionally made with raw goat’s milk, and a straw is inserted in the center of the log to help support the fragile cheese. All Sainte-Maure de Touraine available in the United States is made with pasteurized milk. It’s often sliced into thin medallions and served over vegetables and salads or melted on toast.
Available for purchase at: www.murrayscheese.com/sainte-maure
Tasting Notes: Young logs of Bucheron are fairly dense and uniform. As the cheese ages, the edges become delightfully creamy (even gooey) and creep toward the snowy-white center, which remains firmer and crumbly. It’s salty and has a bright, lemony acidity; the delicate bloomy rind can be a bit peppery.
Background: In France, goat cheese is available in any number of sizes, shapes, and intensities. Bucheron, which is formed into fairly large logs and sold in slices, was one of the first French aged goat cheeses to be exported to the United States. It remains one of the easiest to find. It’s an approachable cheese that has much in common with both Brie and unaged chèvre. When it’s young and the majority of the cheese is firm and dense, it can be used in many recipes that call for fresh goat cheese.
Available for purchase at: www.murrayscheese.com/bucheron
Imported Goat Cheeses - Spain
Tasting Notes: The exterior is treated with the same mold used to make blue cheese, which lends the flattened log a distinctive dark-gray exterior and bold flavor. It’s spicy and piquant, especially toward the exterior, as well as slightly salty, funky, and tangy. The texture is dense and fudgy.
Background: In 1995, a 63-year-old Spaniard named Rafael Baez realized a lifelong dream of making cheese. His creation, which is named for the juniper (or enebro) that grows in the area, was unlike anything else being made in that part of Spain. This elegant, assertive cheese is shaped into a large, flattened log. Following Baez’s death in 2012, his daughter Paloma took over production.
Available for purchase at: www.murrayscheese.com/monte-enebro
Tasting Notes: The smooth, creamy, bright-white color of this wine-soaked cheese is accentuated by its dark purplish-red rind. In addition to adding color, the wine imparts a distinctly fruity, floral flavor that complements the cheese’s sweet, nutty notes. Firm enough to slice, this cheese is delicately flavored and very approachable.
Background: During the first 21 days of aging, this cheese is soaked in red wine for 15 or 30 minutes at least three times. (Patterns of tiny squares on the exteriors of the wheels help hold on to the wine.) In Spain, it’s known as Murcia al Vino. Since the New York–based importer Forever Cheese started distributing it in the 1990s under the name The Drunken Goat, it’s become very popular and widely available in the United States.
Available for purchase at: www.murrayscheese.com/drunken-goat
Imported Goat Cheeses - England
Tasting Notes: This fairly firm gouda-style cheese is nutty, sweet, and slightly salty. It’s mildly tangy throughout, with a hint of funk closer to the washed rind. This buttery, smooth cheese melts well, making it a good option for cooking.
Background: Having grown up near the town of Cheddar in England, third-generation cheesemaker Roger Longman was mostly familiar with the area’s namesake cheese. He started milking goats in 2001 and now makes a wide variety of goat cheeses. Rachel, which was named for a love interest of one of the cheesemakers, is the most popular. The milk is heated but does not reach the time and temperature combination required for pasteurization, making it one of a fairly small number of raw-milk goat cheeses available in the United States. As the cheese ages, the exterior is washed with a brine that causes an earthy natural rind to develop.
Available for purchase at: www.murrayscheese.com/white-lake-cheeses-rachel
Domestic Goat Cheeses - Wisconsin
Tasting Notes: One of Wisconsin’s newest cheeses, it is bright, herbaceous, and nutty. Sweet and milky near the center, it becomes pleasantly earthy close to the rind. Though firm and sliceable, this cheese is still very creamy and smooth. It’s an excellent snacking cheese, but it also grates well and is good for cooking.
Background: Located on the western shore of Lake Michigan, Blakesville Dairy Farm is home to about 1,200 goats. In the spring of 2020, after several years of planning and construction, a farmstead creamery led by longtime cheesemaker Veronica Pedraza opened for business. To make St. Germain, the curds are cooked and the cheese forms are stacked on top of each other to press out moisture. A thin, natural gray rind forms as the cheese ages.
Available for purchase at: www.murrayscheese.com/st-germain
Domestic Goat Cheeses - North Carolina
Tasting Notes: The firm texture and nutty, caramelly sweetness of this cheese are reminiscent of aged cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Manchego. Closer to the rind, the cheese is grassy and earthy. It’s firm enough to slice or grate and would be a good (if somewhat sweeter and subtler) substitute for Parmigiano-Reggiano in many recipes.
Background: Ginnie Tate, known to neighbors as “the Goat Lady,” opened a commercial creamery in 1995, a little more than a decade after she and her family first bought an abandoned tobacco farm in North Carolina. The operation grew from just a few goats to a herd of several hundred. In 2012, Carrie and Bobby Bradds—both longtime employees involved in many aspects of the business—took the reins. Providence was originally intended to be similar to the semisoft, pungent Italian cheese Tallegio. It was a happy accident that the cheese ended up considerably denser and drier but no less delightful.
Available for purchase at: www.murrayscheese.com/providence
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.