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Why do some goat cheeses boast creamy texture and a bright and lemony taste, while others are chalky, gamy, or—worse—utterly flavorless?
Last Updated Feb. 2, 2022. Appears in Cook's Illustrated May/June 2013, America's Test Kitchen TV Season 14: A Modern Take on Pizza and Grilled Cheese
We've learned that our favorite goat cheese has a new name. It is now known as Laura Chenel Original Fresh Goat Cheese Log.
Looking for more? Read our taste test of 15 different styles of goat cheese.
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What You Need To Know
In 1981, Alice Waters topped a simple green salad with a round of baked goat cheese at her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. The tangy creaminess of this supple cheese was a revelation to most Americans. For centuries, France was the primary producer of goat cheese—chèvre in French means goat—and at that point, it was scarcely produced (or even found) domestically. In fact, Waters’s cheese came from a neighbor who kept goats and had learned to make it in France. But Waters was onto something. With that salad, a trend was born. Americans quickly developed a taste for this tangy fresh cheese.
Since then, the United States has seen a boom in goat-cheese making. Production has increased every year since 2002, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, and dairy goat operations can now be found in 43 of the 50 states. The number of goat cheese entries in annual competitions sponsored by the American Cheese Society has doubled since 2005, and the sales of both domestic and imported goat cheese in supermarkets have experienced a huge surge—a whopping 10 percent increase in 2010 alone.
It’s not hard to see why fresh goat cheese is so popular: With its unmistakable tang, it can be eaten straight on crackers, enliven the simplest salad or pasta dish, enhance pizza toppings, and add creamy richness to sautéed greens. With so many new domestic choices now available, which one comes out on top? We gathered nine widely available samples (seven of them stateside products), ranging from $0.82 to $1.63 per ounce, and set to work finding out.
The Whole Schmear
We first tasted the cheese straight out of the package on plain crackers. Then, to see if heat changed its character, we rolled it in bread crumbs and baked it. The good news: Sampled straight from the fridge, the majority of our nine selections were smooth and creamy, with a distinctly tangy, grassy taste—just what we want in goat cheese. Only a few had issues, including a chalky, Spackle-like texture; a too-neutral flavor that seemed more like cream cheese than like goat cheese; or an overly gamy taste, reminiscent of a “barnyard” or even “lamb fat.”
When we baked them, the gamiest samples mellowed to a gentler but still present tang, inspiring descriptions like “savory” and “goaty in a good way.” That made sense when we learned that the compounds that set up gamy flavors in goat cheese are volatile and flash off in the oven’s heat. Heat’s impact on texture, though, was another story. Products that were chalky straight out of the package didn’t improve with baking—and several that were creamy sampled plain surprised us by baking into crumbly, grainy blobs.
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Everything We Tested
“Rich-tasting,” “grassy,” and “tangy,” our favorite goat cheese was “smooth” and “creamy” both unheated and baked, and it kept its “lemony, bright flavor” in both iterations. A high salt content helped: Salt not only enhances flavor but also contributes to keeping the cheese creamy when heated.
“Smooth and creamy” and with a “slightly citrusy,” “clean, lactic” taste, this was one of our favorite goat cheeses for sampling straight from the package. Its moderate salt content allowed it to turn slightly “mealy” when baked, but its “grassy,” “citruslike” flavors continued to earn raves from tasters.
This “tangy,” “creamy” sample was “very strong” and “goaty” eaten unheated, but it mellowed to “bright, tangy, and sweet” when baked, when it also retained a “luscious” texture, thanks to its high salt content.
Unheated, this cheese wowed us with “lemony,” “grassy” flavors and a “smooth,” “melts-in-your-mouth” texture. Though baking dried out its texture a bit, tasters still gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
“Fresh” and “tangy” and with a “creamy” texture when sampled unheated, this cheese with a moderate salt content turned a little “crumbly” when baked but still offered “tang” and “good goat flavor.”
Though it had some fans, the “barnyard” and “gamy” flavor of this cheese reminded some tasters of “lamb fat.” These flavors dissipated in baking, when this sample shone with a “tasty tang and milky flavor” and a “nice creamy texture.”
Recommended with reservations
Though “very creamy” and with a “nice smooth consistency” when unheated, without much salt, it was “neutral” to many and just “mildly tangy.” Too little salt also left it “watery and crumbly” when baked.
Also low in salt, this sample had a pleasant but “mild-mannered” taste and “slightly chalky” texture when eaten from the package. Baking turned it “crumbly,” a flaw that was offset by its “subtle herb” flavor notes.
Its very low salt content didn’t do this cheese any favors. Unheated, it had a “chalky,” “puttylike” texture and “weak” taste. Baking didn’t redeem it: Most tasters found it “chalky” again, with “not enough goat” flavor.
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