By CJ Krueger
Kay Thomas spends a lot of time reading labels in the grocery store, especially in the specialty cheese display.
“For a long time, I was hesitant to purchase goat cheese because as a child I remember it being so strong tasting. But as I started reading the descriptions on the labels, I became more curious and decided to give it another try,” the Oshkosh woman said while looking at the different cheeses at the LaClare Family Creamery store in Malone, Wis.
“I can’t believe how much has changed over the years. There are so many flavors!”
Many consumers with a limited exposure to goat cheese often describe the product as tasting “goaty,” or having a strong taste. But as the dairy goat industry has evolved, so has the flavor and quality of goat cheese, said Katie Fuhrmann, LaClare’s head cheesemaker.
Fuhrmann said the taste of goat cheese begins with the quality of milk with which it is produced.
“When the dairy goat industry was in its infancy, milk producers were holding their milk up to five days in order to have enough to get the truck to stop and pick them up,” she said. “The bacteria in milk that isn’t fresh will start to create those ‘off’ flavors.”
Quality milk has made her job easier, Fuhrmann said.
“I’m not trying to use different cultures to hide flavors or using different techniques to cover things up,” she said. “My parents spent 20 years figuring out how to make the best goat milk possible. And if you don’t start out with great milk you’re not
up,” she said. “My parents spent 20 years figuring out how to make the best goat milk possible. And if you don’t start out with great milk, you’re not going to make great cheese.”
Fuhrmann said people are often shocked at the taste of today’s products created from goat’s milk.
“Ten to 20 years ago people described the flavor profile of goat’s milk as tasting goaty because most grew up on cow’s milk,” she said. “Today’s consumers are not accepting ‘good enough’ in the dairy goat industry. Now they’re expecting goat cheese to taste fresh and they’re expecting it not to have the goaty finish to it.”
Because the complexity and characteristics of the different varieties of goat cheeses are unique to one another and deserve to crawl out from under the blanket descriptor of “goaty,” researchers from Kansas State University’s Center for Sensory Analysis and Consumer Behavior recently developed a new flavor lexicon to characterize goat cheeses made in America.
Researchers previously developed lexicons to describe the flavor characteristics of aged natural cheese and French cheeses.
acteristics of aged natural cheese and French cheeses.
“We thought it was a good idea to do this with goat cheese as we were seeing a lot of dairy goat farms across the country and it was becoming a pretty robust industry,” said Martin Talavera, assistant professor of sensory analysis and consumer behavior. “So we thought of trying to accommodate some of the work that has been done in the past to try to describe the flavor or cheese in order to specifically talk about the flavor of artisan goat cheese in the U.S.”
He said cheesemakers rely on flavor lexicons to not only adapt to consumer preferences but to also help producers benchmark their products.
Talavera said highly trained sensory panelists sampled 47 artisan goat cheeses from across the country. Goat cheeses sampled include cheddar-style with waxy, nutty and sweet flavors; feta-style with saltier flavor profiles; chevre-style with milder flavors; and mold-ripened cheeses that are more pungent and sharp.
As panelists sampled the cheeses, the flavors were categorized as sour, bitter and buttery. Experts also analyzed the cheeses for their aroma, pungency, dairy sweetness, dairy sourness and mouth feel.
“This group of panelists has a wide range of terminology to describe products, so when they evaluate products they come up with a fingerprint profile of different products so they can say this product may have a hint of this or that,” Talavera said.
Out of the 39 flavor attributes used to generate a flavor profile, Talavera said researchers eliminated three attributes that weren’t present in the cheeses that were evaluated, but instead added five unique flavor characteristics: dairy, white pepper, lemon, black walnut and soapy.
Talavera said producers can use this flavor lexicon as not only a means to produce cheeses sought after by consumers, but to also use it as a resource for development, product benchmarking and quality control.
“As far as consumers, there may be some impression that cheeses all taste goaty but that is not the reality,” he said.
For those consumers who have not sampled the variety of goat cheeses available on the market, Fuhrmann said a lot of time and energy is put into creating labels that capture the taste and essence of the cheese with a handful of words.
“When a consumer picks up a package of our Evalon cheese and reads that little three-line blurb of what Evalon is, they will develop a flavor profile in their head that will match what the cheese tastes like,” she said. “Once they taste it, they start tasting that profile that we describe and are able to appreciate the cheese for what it is.”
LaClare expansion: LaClare is growing again.
The facility will move its cave-aged Chandoka-aging program to the LaClare goat farm in Malone where the restaurant and retail shop is also located.
Chandoka cheese is one of LaClare’s signature cheeses that is part cow/part goat milk, with a mild fruity flavor with rich cheddary notes.
Larry Hedrich, co-founder, owner and operator of LaClare Farms, along with his wife, Clara, the cow’s milk develops the fruity characteristics, as the goat milk develops sweet tangy notes, creating Chandoka.
To manage the new aging addition at LaClare, Hedrich announced that the family-operated farm has been able to hire renowned affineur David Rogers.
“David has played a major role in the success of our cave-aged cheese, and to now have the opportunity to have him on site as the goat-dairy-product market continues its rapid expansion allows us to keep up with the current market and also continue to be innovative,” Hedrich said.