Goat cheese has become a culinary celebrity. But what about its parent product, goat milk? While the cheese has become the darling of contemporary California chefs, goat milk is more appreciated by diet and health professionals, who recommend it for babies unable to digest cow milk.
Like an undiscovered Cinderella, the milk has not yet been tapped for a glamour role on California tables and is largely unknown to the general public. Production is so small that the California Department of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento could offer no statistics on goat dairies and goat milk production in this state. The milk is expensive, too. A health food store in Los Angeles sells it for $2.79 a quart, either raw or pasteurized. In contrast, a quart of cow milk cost 56 cents in a supermarket.
Another factor hinders acceptance. "Goats have a very poor image. They're supposed to be dirty animals that eat tin cans and garbage," said Gloria Willis of the Green Gold Valley Goat Dairy at Salinas. The reputation is undeserved, according to Willis. "Goats are very, very clean animals. They smell their food . . . and if it is dirty, they won't eat it," she said. The only odor associated with goats is that of the bucks during breeding season, she added.
Green Gold is a Grade A dairy that began this year to distribute milk in Los Angeles. And a visit there is as entertaining as a visit to the zoo. The does are not just milk givers but individuals, with names like Fawn, Tara, Nougat, Amelia, Naomi, Felicia and Betty Jane. The baby goats (kids) are kept on milk for three to five months. At feeding time, they wag their tails as they eagerly slurp the milk poured out for them by Kathy Thomas, 26, the herd manager. The older goats feed on alfalfa and forage hay, not cans and rubbish.
Schools make field trips to the dairy. And an invitation to visit is also extended on Green Gold milk cartons. The 45-acre property presents an attractive rural scene. Live oak trees shade the Willis house, which is fitted out with antiques and handcrafted woodwork. The carefully tended flower garden in front is the work of Willis's 87-year-old mother, Gerda Jacobsen, who also cooks hearty ranch meals from her store of family recipes. Out back are pens for the goats, barns and the structure that houses the milk parlor, where the goats are milked; the milk room, where the milk is pasteurized and put in cartons, and a small cheese room.
The goats are outgoing, friendly, intelligent and, as Willis said, possessors of "cute personalities." The older ones eye strangers with interest or, sometimes, with wariness. A 2-week-old Alpine kid happily nuzzled Willis as she held it.
The milking proceeds so rapidly that watching it makes one dizzy. Does jam the entrance to the milk parlor like shoppers waiting for the doors to open on a sale. Eight at a time, they rush into individual pens on either side of a sunken area where Thomas supervises the milking. While being milked, they munch on a caprine treat, a mixture of cracked corn, rolled barley and a dairy pellet that supplies vitamins and minerals. Runways lead them out and others take their place without interruption.
The milk is piped through a double filter into a refrigerated tank. Tasting a sample from the tank while the milking was in progress put an end to the myth that goat milk is strongly flavored. The sample tasted pure, clean and light. However, cartoned milk that is allowed to stand for several days will develop a slightly rich flavor.
Green Gold milk comes from four breeds--Alpine, Nubian, Saanen and LaMancha. In full season, the dairy produces about 120 gallons a day, most of which is sold raw. Willis estimates that one-fourth is pasteurized.
In July, the dairy introduced a line of goat cheeses, produced in the cheese room by Mary Jane Pruett, aided by Willis' daughter, Marilyn McMurray. In addition to plain cheese, they make garlic-dill, orange-tarragon, fines herbes, dill-curry, apricot-pistachio and date-nut flavored varieties. Pruett named a dessert cheese Lulu's Delight after an encounter with a particularly skittish, older Alpine goat. This cheese contains fruits and walnuts and is spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom.
Goat dairying may be a small industry, but it is as closely regulated as the production of cow milk. Howard Eastham, dairy foods specialist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Milk and Dairy Foods Control, said samples for inspection are picked up at least once a month from dairies producing either type of milk. Milk stocked in retail stores is periodically checked, too.