With an interest in traditional dairy alternatives on the rise, consumers are favoring goat—for its easy-to-digest properties, higher protein and lower cholesterol levels—over cow and are showing an increased appetite for artisan offerings, especially in the cheese case. Used primarily for cheese consumption, goat milk retail sales reached $142 million this year, up eight percent from $131 million in 2015, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
While more goat cheese varieties begin to fill cheese cases, they are starting to dominate competitively too, rivaling those cheeses made from cow’s milk: The annual American Cheese Society Competition played host to more goat cheeses than cow this year boasting 376 goat cheese entries—330 that were exclusively goat milk. Of these, 86 received awards, including 24 first-place ribbons, according to Nora Weiser, Executive Director of the American Cheese Society.
“With trailblazers like Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery, Laura Chenel’s, Vermont Creamery and Cypress Grove Chèvre paving the way for some of the farmstead and artisan goat cheesemakers we are seeing today, we can expect to see more award-winning cheeses throughout the US in a wide range of styles, ages and mixed milks,” says Weiser.
Goat farming too is on the rise in the US. (According to the US Department of Ag., Wisconsin's dairy goat herd has grown to 44,000, a 70 percent increase since 2002, while California and Iowa have the second and third largest herds, respectively).
Gaining Followers Through Variety
The gateway to artisan-made cheese here in the US, goat cheese is slowly shedding the stigma of a soft, runny, pungent cheese and gaining new followers who are adventurous eaters wanting unique flavor profiles and varied textures and flavors.
“Consumers seem to finally be getting past the notion that goat cheese is only potent soft, fresh chèvre,” says Janet Fletcher, publisher of the Planet Cheese blog. “They are learning that goat cheese can be a large and varied category that comes in many forms such as Gouda, cheddar, Tomme, and blues,” she adds.
Elyzabeth Dehapiot marketing director for Laura Chenel’s adds that flavored fresh products add another dimension to otherwise ‘plain’ options luring both new and old customers to the goat cheese category.
“As consumers become more familiar with goat cheese, there is an opportunity in the category for the regular goat cheese consumer to change things up and try different products such as fresh chèvre to a soft-ripened like goat brie,” she says.
“New product offerings also intrigue non-goat cheese customers because different tastes and textures can provide different usage opportunities,” she adds.
Domestic Strides and Local Sourcing
According to Weiser, goat cheese lovers interested in eating locally and those wanting to know more about where and how their food is produced, will provide incentive for cheesemakers to develop new products, particularly in the marinated goat cheese category, a sub-category she says is sure to catch on. “Companies like CHEVOO for its Aleppo Chili and Lemon chèvre marinated in infused olive oil and Laura Chenel’s for its marinated herbed and spicy Cabecou are creating a niche in the category that is winning over goat cheese fans,” she says.
Head buyer Lydia Burns of Pastoral Artisan Cheese in Chicago says farmers markets, too, are bringing more awareness to the goat cheese category overall and notes that there are great domestic cheesemakers making the same caliber of cheese set by the standards of European producers.
“Goat cheese can only benefit from the support consumers are giving to the small specialty food artisanal movement and those shopping farmers markets,” says Burns. “Farmers Markets offer more transparency and are places where consumers can not only talk to cheesemakers to learn about milk sourcing and make more educated cheese choices but also taste different types of product,” she adds.
As locally made farmstead cheeses gain traction with consumers, some debate exists whether or not they are scalable.
“The notion of a true farmstead cheese—one that is made from milk from the farmers own herd, on the farm where the animals are raised—is very romantic and there are some excellent farmstead varieties out there,” says Burns. “But it can be very costly for the farmer who has to deal with land cost and overhead, not to mention being able to maintain a consistent product.”
On the retail end, she says there are growing pains with the consumer often feeling it in their wallet.
“Chef’s especially come in and want a French-style goat that is made locally, but often don’t understand why it is so expensive.”