By Crystal Siemers-Peterman
In America’s Dairyland, about 44,000 dairy goats call Wisconsin home. This ranks Wisconsin as the top dairy goat state in the nation.
The dairy goat industry is relatively young in Wisconsin and in the United States, but as demand for goat’s milk has steadily increased since the mid-1990s, the number of goats in our state has followed suit. Goat farms can offer a variety of products, including cheese, fluid milk, ice cream, butter and soaps.
Goat’s milk quality and safety are carefully regulated. Just as with cow’s milk, goat’s milk quality is defined by low bacterial and somatic cell counts, and the absence of antibiotics. Milk is cooled to at least 50 degrees F or lower within two hours of milking. Fluid goat’s milk sold commercially for consumption is also pasteurized, ensuring a safe and wholesome product.
Eight major breeds of dairy goats are found in the United States, with a few being more popular for milk production. Depending on diet and breed, milk production can range from 6 to 12 pounds, or about 1 to 1.5 gallons, per day. Saanens originated in Switzerland and are a popular breed due to the doe’s large udder capacity and high-quality milk production. Another common breed found on dairy goat farms is the Nubian. Nubians produce somewhat less milk, but it tends to be higher in components such as protein and butter fat, which are desirable for making cheese. The other six breeds are Alpine, Toggenburg, Lamancha, Nigerian Dwarf, Sable and Oberhasli.
The key to making exceptional cheese is consistent, quality milk. Currently, more than 70 Master Cheesemakers are certified in Wisconsin, and they truly make dairy processing into a scientific art form. As a result of the diversity of livestock in Wisconsin, cheesemakers can incorporate milk from many species, including cows, goats, sheep and even buffalo.
The proteins in goat’s milk make for slightly softer curds when compared to cow’s milk, which can incorporate a rich, creamy texture into many cheeses. The proteins in goat’s milk are smaller, so they break down more easily, making the cooling and handling of goat’s milk extremely important. Additionally, goat’s milk quality decreases after three days, making it very perishable.
People are often familiar with the fresh, spreadable version of goat cheese, or chevre. Brie made from goat’s milk offers a unique flavor profile within a traditional classic. Goat’s milk can also be used for bleu and cheddar varieties and can be combined with sheep’s and cow’s milk to make signature artisan cheeses.
There are so many delicious ways that you can enjoy locally produced Wisconsin goat cheese. Recently on my blog I featured a savory Baked Goat Cheese Dip that disappears as quickly as it can be made. For more information about dairy goats, visit the Wisconsin Dairy Goat Association.
Siemers-Peterman is the 70th Alice in Dairyland.