In America’s Dairyland, approximately 44,000 dairy goats call Wisconsin home. This ranks our state at the #1 spot for the number of dairy goats and fluid goat milk production.
The goat industry is relatively young in Wisconsin and in the United States, but as demand 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 milk quality and safety is carefully regulated. Just as with cow’s milk, goat’s milk quality is defined by low bacterial and somatic cell counts, the absence of antibiotics, and it is cooled to at least 50 degrees or less within two hours of milking. Fluid goat 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 upon diet and breed, milk production can range from 6 to 12 pounds, or about 1 to 1 ½ 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 is 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 who 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 cow, goat, 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 goats’ milk are smaller so they break down easier, making the cooling and handling of goat milk extremely important. Additionally, goat’s milk quality will decrease after three days making it very perishable.
People are often familiar with the fresh, spreadable version of goat cheese, or chèvre. 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 and cow's milk to make signature artisan cheeses.
There are so many delicious ways that you can enjoy locally produced Wisconsin goat cheese. You can find more information on dairy goats from the Wisconsin Dairy Goat Association at www.wdga.org.