Why do goats’ cheeses taste ‘goaty’? And why are some stronger than others?

Many people have been put off for life by tasting a really-ripe goats’ cheese – saying it is ‘like licking a goat’! But contrary to popular opinion, goats’ milk doesn’t necessarily have the pungent smell often associated with it and the cheese doesn’t have to either.

It’s time to debunk the urban myth that Billy Goats kept with the females causes the strong goat taint in goats’ cheese.

Many people have stated that “keeping the Billy Goat with your female dairy herd is the reason some goats’ cheeses taste stronger than others”. And although this is trotted out time after time, it doesn’t appear to be true. It’s more likely to be a classic case of association rather than causation. Billy Goats, the male of the species, smell very pungent (it’s because they like to urinate on their beard and forelegs to attract females!) but that taint actually doesn’t seem to transfer into the milk.
It seems the fact that the male of the species smells strongly of goat leads people to assume this leads to the cheese tasting really goaty too! Whereas in fact, goats’ cheeses from farms where they house their Billy Goats with the females can show no discernibly overpowering goaty flavour, whilst others do.

Why do goats cheese taste goatySo why does goats’ cheese taste of ‘goat’?

The scientific reason behind the goat flavour in goats’ cheese, is that their milk has a higher amount of three smaller-chain fatty acids (caproic, capric and caprylic fat) that give those ‘goaty’, ‘barnyardy’ flavours. But this doesn’t explain why some goats’ cheeses taste more strongly of goat than others.

So why do some goats’ cheese have a more pronounced goat flavour than others?

Whether the cheese tastes more or less of goat is because:

  • They either have a greater proportion of the smaller-chain fats within their milk in the first place (arising from how the goats are fed and bred),
  • Or the fats have ‘broken down’ more to showcase the goaty flavour more strongly.

The fats could break down more (and faster) in some cheeses to produce the strong goaty flavours* for several reasons:

  • The strain of mould, yeast and bacteria on the rind of cheese could actively break down the fats more/faster, particularly the strain of Geotrichum used on the rind,
  • Aggressive stirring or heating too vigorously in the cheese-making process,
  • Poor handling / rough treatment of the milk, damaging the fats: not cooling fast enough, using ‘old’ milk that has been stored for several days before making cheese, rough transportation, harsh pumping of the milk, freezing (the smaller fats and delicate proteins in goats’ milk means it is more easily damaged than cows’ and sheep’s),
  • High bacteria/mould/yeast presence occurring naturally within the milk breaking down the fat (caused by the environment, cheese-maker’s/milker’s hands / animal health – mastitis / presence of psychotropic bacteria, effective cleaning of milking & storage equipment / etc.)

Goats cheese tasting pungentOften, in practice, this means the lighter/fresher cheeses and the hard cheeses like Gouda-styles exhibit less of the ‘goaty’ characteristics becauses the fat has not broken down to give the goaty flavours.
But it really depends the handling of the milk – both Ingot and Sinodun Hill are mature lactic goats’ cheeses that have rich, herbaceous flavours and only a delicate goat note, but at The Courtyard Dairy in the past we’ve further aged Sinodun Hill to create an affiné (extra-matured) version and the ‘goat’ flavour starts to intensify as the fat further breaks down.

Is that goaty flavour good or bad? Well that’s up to you to decide – it’s simply a question of personal taste!

(*Excessive fat breakdown can also lead to rancidity, with soapy and peppery flavours.)

Do you want to know more about the history of goats’ cheese, it’s benefits and how it differs from other milks in cheese-making and nutrition? – click here >.

View The Courtyard Dairy’s range of farmhouse goats’ cheeses (delivered UK-wide) here >

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