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Goat milk is popular for many cheeses, and some people prefer it for other cultured milk products, such as yogurt, as well. The taste of goat milk is often a factor in making this decision.
There are many factors that contribute to the taste of goat milk. Some people prefer the “goaty” flavor for which goat milk is well known. Others “put up” with the taste if that is their only option. Still others like their goat milk to taste just like cow milk. The issue is subjective and depends upon people’s taste preferences.
Fresh goat and cow milk should taste basically the same. However, if goat milk has a “goaty” flavor, it can be attributed to a variety of causes: some harmless, some not so much, which may raise a red flag in terms of goat health, care, diet and environment.
Store-bought Goat Milk
Goat milk bought in a store often has a very goaty taste and has been processed differently than fresh, raw goat milk. While raw goat milk may be available in some stores, most often goat milk from the store has been pasteurized, a process in which live enzymes, bacteria, and nutrients are killed by heating the milk to certain temperatures. The freshness of the milk may also be compromised due to the time it takes to process, handle, package, and deliver the milk to its destination. There also may be levels of antibiotics, steroids, and medicines found in store-bought milk that could affect its flavor.
A possible health issue in the doe may cause the milk to taste “off” or goaty. Low-grade infections, illnesses, or viruses may affect the taste of the milk, and when treated, would restore a good flavor to the milk. A common condition affecting milk is called mastitis, an inflammation of the mammary gland (the udder) causing a chemical and physical reaction in milk. This condition is found more in large, mass-producing environments than in a smaller or family dairy environment. Mastitis has been proven to be associated with poor sanitation as well as trauma and bruising to the udder or teats. A clean living environment as well as healthy diet and immune system create a strong barrier against conditions such as mastitis. Changes in stress, extreme temperatures, poor living conditions and diet can contribute to taxing the health of the goat, possibly affecting the taste of her milk.
Care of the Animals
Poor sanitation is another piece in the goat milk taste puzzle. Ideally, goats should have enough space to eat, exercise, and explore. Proper feed, hay, and a good source of water should always be provided. Shelters should be kept with clean hay and regularly swept of manure and other organic refuse to minimize the contraction and spread of disease. These precautions help to keep goats healthy and provide a low-stress environment, all factors contributing to a flow of healthy and good tasting goat milk.
Goats that have a specific, fixed diet of hay and feed will have fewer variables influencing the taste of their milk than those goats that are allowed to free range and graze upon seasonal growths (i.e., perennial grasses, wild garlic, onion, etc.) Certain grasses and wild growths can certainly affect the taste of the milk. The goat owner will need to monitor the diet of the animal and alter/experiment by reducing or increasing different feeds and grains in order to identify the possible effect on the taste of the milk.
Bucks (male goats) emit a strong musky odor, more prevalent during rutting, or mating, season. Female and castrated goats do not emit this odor. Many goat owners maintain that having a buck in habitation with the milking doe will cause the milk to have a goaty, musky taste. Other owners keep a buck in year-round with the does and declare no effect whatsoever on the taste of the milk. So this is a factor that may be considered in trying to make milk taste less goaty.
The processing of the milk is one of the main factors affecting the taste of the milk. Goat milk contains the enzyme caproic acid, which causes it to turn “goaty” with age. So fresh milk properly processed is recommended for drinking and making dairy products without a goaty taste.
Sanitation: It’s important to take proper care of the milking utensils, and ensure the cleanliness of the goat udder and teats in order to reduce the possibility of bad bacteria influencing the taste of the milk. Utensils must be cleaned and prepped before each milking session. The udder and teats should also be washed and dried with a clean cloth in order to clear away any hairs, dirt, straw, and possible feces that may have made contact since the last milking session.
Before collecting the milk during milking, a few sample squirts off to the side should be analyzed for any foul smell, thickness, or blood which could indicate some sort of illness or infection that may require attention in order to restore the milk to be fit for consumption and optimal taste.
Filtering: There will inevitably be some stray hairs or organic materials that fall into the pail during the milking session. Some people, in order to eliminate these materials from affecting the taste of the milk, may place a filter directly over the milking pail as another step of prevention during the milking process. Otherwise, filtering the milk after the session is complete is generally the accepted method.
Chilling: Once milking is complete, the milk must be filtered and chilled or frozen as quickly as possible to inhibit multiplication of bacteria, which can result in a more goaty taste. A milk filter can be anything from a coffee filter to cheesecloth or a clean, tightly-woven cloth to specific milk filters which may be purchased through a livestock supply outlet or catalog. The longer the milk is left warm, the more goaty the taste will be. Some people desiring that taste in their cheeses may opt to make cheese with fresh goat milk that has not been cooled in order to take advantage of the natural process.
In warmer climates it is difficult to keep the milk from starting to turn goaty even before the milking session is over. Some have addressed this issue by chilling the bucket prior to milking or placing a pre-chilled object in the bucket during milking, enabling the chilling process to begin as soon as the milk comes out of the teat.
When all of the above has been tried, it may simply come down to the genetic makeup of the particular goat or goat line. Different does may have the exact same care and processing of their milk, yet the milk from one doe may taste goaty while the milk from another in the same herd does not.
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