10/31/2011 03:58 EDT | Updated 12/31/2011 05:12 EST

Goat's Milk Products: North Americans Love Them, Especially Cheeses


LONDON, Ont: In most of the rest of the world, more people drink goat milk and eat goat cheese than products from cows. But North Americans are starting to catch up.

The dairy goat industry is growing by leaps and bounds in Canada, particularly in Ontario and Quebec. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimated goat milk production country-wide at more than 21 million litres in 2004. Today, estimates put production at close to 18 million litres in Ontario alone.

The same sorts of products that are made from cow milk are also made from goat milk — homogenized, two per cent, one per cent, skim, organic and chocolate milk, all types of cream, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, eggnog, ice cream and sherbet. And more products are being introduced all the time.

But by far the biggest goat milk product is cheese and not just the soft unripened chevre people may be familiar with. There is also goat medium-aged cheddar, mozzarella, feta and brie. U.S. consumers can buy aged goat cheddar and goat Gouda and more of these products will likely become available in Canada.

The growth of the industry is "absolutely consumer driven," says Lindsay Gregory, marketing co-ordinator for Woolwich Dairy Inc. of Orangeville, Ont., the largest goat cheese manufacturer in Canada.

"Last year in Orangeville we processed 15 million litres (of goat milk)," she says. "We purchase about 85 per cent of all the goat milk in Ontario."

One significant reason for the demand is the "health benefits of the goat products," she says. "Goat milk is lower in fat and lower in cholesterol, but it's still high in protein and calcium."

A 2005 Agriculture Canada report confirms that milk from dairy goats "is quite similar to cow milk in both taste and nutrient profile. However, goat milk has 13 per cent less lactose than cow milk and contains smaller milk-fat particles, making it easier to digest. In many cases, people with cow milk allergies have no trouble consuming goat milk."

Demand is driven as well by the proliferation of goat milk products used on television cooking shows and in magazine features, Gregory says. Also, more people are travelling to areas of the world where goat milk is more common and they want to reproduce those flavours when they return to their own kitchens.

Goat milk products are more expensive than comparable items made from cow milk, "for the simple reason that a goat produces a lot less milk than a cow does, so it yields a lot less finished product," Gregory says. "But the gap is getting smaller."

And availability is no longer restricted to health food and specialty stores. Gregory says their products are sold by almost all major supermarket chains from coast to coast. In the new year, Woolwich will be introducing two new product lines — ice cream and goat-cheese-based salad dressings. They will be launched at the firm's booth at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto from Nov. 4 to 13.

In terms of cooking, Nicole Young of Toronto, a recipe developer and food stylist, says there is no difference between goat milk and cow milk products in standard recipes, except for the taste.

Goat milk products "offer a tang that you wouldn't necessarily get from a regular cow's milk," she says.

Otherwise, the quantities of products are interchangeable and heat doesn't affect the goat milk products any differently. The cheddar and mozzarella can be grated just like cow milk cheese and are just as good in a grilled cheese sandwich or on a pizza.

"I just like the taste of it," Young says. "From a culinary point of view, it offers something quite different."

Young develops recipes for Ontario Goat, the new name adopted last year by the Ontario Goat Breeder's Association, and she says what she tries to illustrate with the recipes is the "versatility" of the products.

"I made a goat cheese brownie and the texture is amazing. I made a pastry with goat cheese and I was so happy with how it turned out. It was really flaky and moist and it just has a slight hint of goat cheese to it."

Her only cooking hint is that goat milk brie gets very soft very quickly at room temperature, so if cooking with it, make sure it's well chilled before adding it to other ingredients.

There's really no limit to the way goat milk products can be used, she says. "Citrus and nuts go really well with goat cheese, ginger and all those things."