Watch out cheddar, there’s a new cheese in town. Last year, the American Cheese Society saw 139 entries in its annual cheese competition for chevre, otherwise known as goat cheese. This was the highest number of entries in one category, more entries than any other cheese, including the usual front runner, cheddar. Although goat cheese may not really be new, it is definitely gaining in popularity as Americans discover what the rest of the world has long known, goat cheese is good.
Goat cheese, which is characterized by its saltier taste, has been a dietary staple in many countries for centuries. Areas that lacked the wide open spaces needed to raise cows used goats for their dairy items as goats require less space and are generally more manageable. The growth of the cattle industry in America made cow’s milk and the cheeses made from it daily staples in the American diet but goat cheese is now gaining in popularity.
The USDA reports the number of dairy goats in the U.S has increased from 335,000 in 2007 to 360,000 in 2011. This increase occurred even as the number of goats overall fell during that time span. Here in Arizona, local farmers and ranchers raise more than 2,000 dairy goats and many of those farms offer farmstead cheese made from their own milk. For goat cheese lovers, these local sources can help stretch your food dollar by offering high quality fresh cheese at competitive prices while also allowing you to buy locally. When sourcing for goat cheese on Fill Your Plate, select “goat cheese” from the drop down product list. You’ll discover some of Arizona’s local goat cheese farmers including award-winning producers.
As people tighten their belts both literally and financially, the increasing demand for goat cheese may seem out of place as goat cheese is generally more expensive than cheese made from cow’s milk. The increase is thought to be a result of American’s increasing food awareness.
One ounce of goat cheese averages about 80 calories, 6 grams of fat, 20 mgs of cholesterol, and 5 grams of protein. When compared to cheddar cheese made with cow’s milk, which averages 113 calories, 9 grams of fat, 29 mg of cholesterol, and 7 grams of protein, the goat cheese wins, hoofs down. Goat cheese also contains 25% more vitamin B-6, 47% more vitamin A, 27% more selenium, and three times the niacin as cheese that comes from cows. Even at the steeper price, it is easy to understand why goat cheese is gaining in popularity.
Another reason people are going for the goat cheese is lactose intolerance. For many who have difficulties digesting cow’s milk and the products made from it, goat’s milk offers a more easily digested alternative. Switching over to goat’s milk products can bring milk and dairy products back into the lives of these folks.
What does this mean for Arizona farmers and ranchers? It may mean that some traditional dairy farmers may choose to switch from cows to goats as has happened in other states. Although an individual goat produces significantly less milk in a year than an average Holstein cow, 3,000 pounds as opposed to 27,000 pounds, the cost to feed one cow for a year can feed 7-8 goats. Farmers can also get twice as much for one pound of goat’s milk than they do for one pound of cow’s milk. Don’t worry, the local Arizona agriculture landscape won’t suddenly be missing cows; the continuing demand for cow’s milk isn’t expected to decrease in response to the increased demand for goat milk products.
Whether goat cheese or cheddar, the health benefits of cheese from cows and goats as part of a balanced diet means families will continue to keep cheese a nutritious, fun and yummy part of their diets.
Looking for ways to get some goat cheese into your diet? Instead of your normal Saturday lunch, try Goat Cheese Lettuce Wraps. Going to a party next Friday night? Swap out the chips and salsa for a plate of Baked Goat Cheese Crostini and watch as all the partygoers ask for the recipe. Toss a salad of Mixed Greens with Goat Cheese Dressing on the table next to your grilled chicken or pork for a tasty and trendy way to make the same old dinner fresh and new.
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