There are over a billion goats in the world. It’s not surprising that about 65% of the world’s population drinks goat’s milk. The United States is starting to recognize the value of raising goats for dairy production more and more. Goat's milk has many nutritional advantages not found in other animal milk.
People with cow’s milk allergies digest goat's milk much easier. The mineral composition of goat milk is rich in bioavailable calcium and phosphorus and has more of the essential microminerals zinc and selenium. Both are required for immune function, contributing to the prevention of disease and illness.
Goat milk is a nutrient-dense and delicious food, made even more so when you are producing it in your backyard. But it is more than just a refreshing glass on a warm summer day. Here are a few simple ways you can enjoy your goat milk to the fullest year-round.
Yogurt Milk plus live active cultures plus steady warm temperature equals yogurt. All you must do to make delicious yogurt at home is to add a yogurt culture to fresh milk and then keep it warm (under 112ºF) for 12 to 24 hours. You can use an oven with the light on, an ice chest with a light bulb, or any insulated container and heat source you can think of to keep the yogurt at temperature. Don’t worry about keeping the temperature perfectly stable; if you're close, it will work.
You can buy a starter yogurt culture, or you can buy a container of high quality plain yogurt with live active culture in it to be your mother culture. Just make sure the yogurt you start with has live active cultures—they should be listed as ingredients like L. Acidophilus, L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus, and Bifidobacterium Lactus.
Yogurt is so simple to make that it can even be done in the backcountry. I love making sleeping bag yogurt while out on hiking trips. After milking the goats, I add a little culture from the last batch, and wrap the jar up in my sleeping bag to keep it warm. After 12 hours, voila, delicious goat milk yogurt!
Kefir Kefir is even easier to make than yogurt is. Instead of using a yogurt culture, this milky drink uses kefir grains. Add kefir grains to fresh milk and let it sit at room temperature for a day. Then strain off the grains to use for your next batch and drink the kefir!
These grains are actually not grains, but a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Yogurt and kefir are extremely beneficial for healthy gut flora. Kefir is easier to digest than milk, so people who are sensitive to milk may be able to enjoy it.
Soft Cheese Cheesemaking conjures up images of big pots, specialty kitchen equipment, and cheese caves dug into the earth. Many assume an elaborate setup is required for making cheese. While hard cheeses do require a place to age and a little setup, soft cheeses are quite simple and quick.
Soft cheese is made by separating and straining milk to produce curds and whey. This process occurs naturally by leaving fresh milk out at room temperature for 24 to 72 hours to “clabber,” or sour. Another option is to add a few drops of liquid rennet to fresh milk and the curds and whey will separate within a few hours. A third method is to use an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar instead of rennet. For fresh cheeses like Farmer’s cheese, Pannier acid and heat are used to separate the curds from the whey in a matter of minutes.
No matter what path you take, once the curds and whey are separated, use a cheesecloth to strain the curds out of the whey. A simple cheese mold or press can be used to squeeze more liquid out, and then you can add herbs and spices of your choosing. Soft cheese can be enjoyed fresh or aged.
Pro tip: cheesecloth is great for aging hard cheeses, but not great for straining curds from whey. Paint strainer bags, bandanas, and even pillowcases work better for this application.
Whey Whey is the liquid expelled by curdled and strained milk during the cheesemaking process. The result is a protein-rich liquid with most of the milk fats and solids removed. With the curds used for cheese, whey is often seen as an unwanted byproduct to be thrown away. However, whey is a fantastic resource for all kinds of food preparations. Here are two of my favorite uses for whey.
All-Natural, Healthy Soda Whey can act as a starter for any number of sweet or sour tonic beverages. The base for these beverages is usually a combination of water, sugar, and flavoring. The combinations are endless as various fruits, herbs, and spices can fill these roles. The addition of a quarter cup of whey per quart of beverage base provides the lactic acid bacteria to ferment the drink. After combining whey with your favorite concoction let it ferment for a day in a warm place until you see bubbles. Then transfer the liquid into sealable bottles and leave them out for another day (and beware of the possibilities of explosions with pressurized containers). Refrigerate and enjoy them on a nice warm day.
I like making a gorgeously bright beet juice goat whey soda. I cut a small purple beet into cubes and put it in a quart jar, then add a quarter cup of whey and a few spoonfuls of honey, fill the remaining space with water and then follow the directions above. Whey sodas are tasty all year round, but extra satisfying on a hot summer day. For more ideas see The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.
Lacto-Fermentation Whey can act as a starter for vegetable ferments, a way to preserve food without refrigeration. The process involves allowing lactobacilli present on the surface of plants to proliferate and inhibit the growth of rot-inducing bacteria. Adding a few tablespoons of whey per quart of ferment will ensure you have the necessary bacteria present.
For example, you can fill a pint jar with dilly beans from your garden (or any vegetable), add a tablespoon of whey and salt, then leave it at room temp for a few days, opening the lid once a day to “burp” the ferment so it doesn’t spill over. After a few days the jars can be transferred to a cool place to store until you're ready to enjoy them. Lacto-fermentation makes it possible to enjoy garden goodness even in the depths of winter.
The preserving powers of whey extends beyond fresh fermentations. You can add whey to any tinned, canned, or jarred goods you may have opened. Several hours of fermentation will add flavor and reduce spoilage. You will even extend the life of the food for an extra day or two without refrigeration.
I hope this article inspires you to explore all the amazing things that can be done with goat milk. Until next time, may your fingers be fatty and your toes be warm.