Flavor 3: Non-Goaty Goat MilkApril 30, 2014
BY CARLA SEIDL
"I consider myself a milk producer. A goat's milk producer," says Linda Seligman, owner of Round Mountain Creamery in Black Mountain. Her small, 28 acre farm off of twisting, scenic NC Highway 9 houses more than 300 goats and produces around 50 gallons of milk each day, some of which is used to make 12 varieties of soft farmstead goat cheese (chèvre) and a couple of seasonal hard goat cheeses.
Though not a North Carolina native, Linda has lived on her farm in Black Mountain for almost 20 years. Her first experience with goat milk was when she was a child in Mississippi, where her father raised cotton. There was a baby deer brought to the house, and she took care of it, feeding it milk from a neighbor's goats down the road. But that goat milk didn't taste good because the buck always ran with the does. Here, Linda says, the milk is so much better. She sees my skeptical look. "You'll taste it; it tastes just like cow's milk," she says.
According to Linda, the main difference between goat and cow's milk is that the fat globules in goat milk are smaller and more fragile. "You can use goat milk in everything you'd use cow's milk," she says, but admits, "I don't think people really understand how good it is yet." To prevent the goaty taste that some people associate with goat milk, Linda explains that in addition to separating the bucks from the does to avoid muskiness, you have to keep goat milk colder than cow's milk and not shake it too hard.
"What was your interest in goats?" I ask. "I wanted something that ate grass. Cows were too big and scary. Llamas spat at me. Sheep didn't seem to be too smart...I met goats and fell in love."
Goats may seem headstrong, but they are really just wanting to know what you want them to do, Linda explains. Once they understand that, they'll do it. Goats are very good at following the herd leader, who, in this case, is the human. "You become their baby when you're milking them. And to their babies, you're the babies' mama. So it works really well."
Linda started producing milk and cheese for her own personal use before deciding to open Round Mountain Creamery. She is very proud of her dairy's Grade A rating from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The Grade A rating means that unlike other area goat dairies, Round Mountain Creamery is allowed to sell fluid milk to the public. It took 12 years to get the state regulatory organization "accepting of me and my tiny little place," Linda explains.
Linda brings me to the milking parlor, where 16 "freshened does" (meaning does in milk, as opposed to "dry does") are milked by machine while distracted by grain and alfalfa pellets. It takes seven or eight goats to make as much milk as one cow. There is also a raw milk room containing a 250 gallon tank, a processing or pasteurizing room, a bottle washing room, a cheesemaking room, where Linda has me sample some curds and whey (formed by adding lactic acid to the milk), and an aging room, for the dairy's seasonal hard cheeses.
The design of the dairy is clean and efficient, with pipes connecting the different rooms to avoid handling of the milk before bottling. Round Mountain Creamery prides itself on being the first and only combined dairy goat farm and grade A goat milk processing plant in the state of North Carolina. While most dairies will sell their raw milk to a large company that processes it, there are no such companies in the area. Linda had to find her own way to bring her milk to market. She designed the dairy herself, with nothing more than a copy of the state rules and regulations to go by. "I designed it as if I had to do it all. And then what would be the best way that I could do what I needed to do, to get my product out."
As we emerge from the bottle washing room, Jennifer Perkins from Looking Glass Creamery in Fairview arrives. Jennifer comes twice a week with a small tank to pick up the goat milk she uses in her company's award-winning cheeses and caramel. She says that she sees a lot of difference between cow and goat milk. For one thing, color -- while goat milk is always pure white, grass-fed cow's milk is yellow because cows don't fully metabolize the carotene in the grass. Also, goat milk has a deeper flavor profile. "There's more of the animal in there," Jennifer says, which gives her goat cheeses a nice complexity of taste. "There are specific things that I would only ever make with goat milk, and if I couldn't get great goat milk, like I can from Linda, then I'd stop making them." According to Jennifer, there are also health reasons for choosing goat milk: for one thing, many say goat milk can be easier to digest than cow's milk.
In spite of the pouring rain, more visitors arrive -- a grandmother and her granddaughter have driven three hours to come for a tour and cheese tasting. We sit down together and the Nutty Blueberry soft cheese, which won a medal at the 2012 NC State Fair, becomes a favorite among all of us. The grandmother says she does not like goat milk and is reluctant to try it, but Linda insists. "Throw away all your misconceptions about how you think goat milk should taste," she urges, handing the older woman a cup. "If you get a clump," she tells all of us, "it's cream, so, be thankful."
I down my own milk, which is cold, creamy, and decidedly lacking in "goatiness." I turn to the grandmother. "Like vanilla ice cream," she exclaims. "I wouldn't have believed it."
Try Linda's goat milk and see for yourself. You can find Round Mountain Creamery milk and cheeses at Earth Fare Westgate in Asheville, the WNC Farmers Market on Brevard Rd. in Asheville, The Artisan Gourmet Market in Black Mountain, and Thompson's Store in Saluda.