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Cheese of the Month - January 2017

Goat’s milk cheese gaining in demand, quality, variety

Editor’s Note: “Cheese of the Month” is Cheese Market News’ exclusive profile series exploring various cheese types. Each month, CMN highlights a different cheese in this feature, giving our readers a comprehensive look at production, marketing, sales and in-depth aspects of each profiled cheese type. Please read on to learn about this month’s featured variety: goat’s milk cheese.

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. — Goat’s milk cheeses have come a long way from the earthy-flavored Chèvre that once dominated the category. While Fresh Chèvre still is the most popular type of goat’s milk cheese in the United States, both the quality and varieties of goat’s milk cheeses have increased by more than a kid’s leap. Soft-ripened goat’s milk cheeses, as well as hard Alpine-style varieties, also have gained success in both sales and awards circuits.

“The quality of (goat’s milk) cheese today is substantially better from most plants than it was years ago. This has, I believe, to do with the quality of milk coming into the plants. It doesn’t matter how good the cheesemaker is. You cannot make good cheese without good milk,” says Larry Hedrich, general manager of LaClare Farms, Malone, Wisconsin.

“It used to be the exception to see goat cheese in the supermarket. Now I see many, many retail outlets carrying at least some goat cheese — not only Chèvre, but carrying some harder goat cheese also,” he adds. “I think the public has begun to appreciate the quality of the goat cheese being made now. I think we’ve still got a challenge of getting beyond the cheese they had years ago that had a goaty aftertaste.

With the cheeses we produce, literally we have had people surprised with how good it tastes.”

Hedrich, whose family’s farm has been actively involved with dairy goats since 1978 and with its goat’s milk cheese business since 2008, notes that there are special challenges to making cheeses with goat’s milk.

“Goat’s milk is more fragile than cow’s milk,” he says. “It’s easy to damage the composition of the milk. If traveling long distances, with partial loads, the milk sloshing around in the truck can be impacted before it even gets to the cheesemaker.”

Sandy Goldberg, vice president of business development, Saputo Cheese USA Inc., says another challenge is that peak supply and demand periods do not sync up.

“Goat milk production peaks in the spring and is lowest in the winter, but goat cheese demand is highest during the winter holidays,” he says. “Saputo Cheese USA sources goat milk from local farmers to ensure that we utilize the freshest milk possible.”

• Growing category

According to IRI data, 9.7 million pounds of goat’s milk cheeses were sold in the 52 weeks ending Nov. 27, up 8 percent from a year earlier. IRI also notes that goat cheese volume sales have gained over each of the last six years. Despite the growth, goat’s milk cheese still holds only a 0.32 percent share of natural cheese in the United States (fixed weight, not including deli cheese).

Log/roll, a common form for fresh Chèvre, is the most popular form of goat cheese with 50 percent share of sales, up 6.5 percent in the latest 52 weeks, IRI reports. Crumbled is the next most popular with 21.5 percent share, and chunk has especially grown (+20 percent), coming in third with 18.2 percent share.

The majority of goat cheese is sold in small packages — less than 8 ounces — though larger sizes, especially 32-ounce, are gaining, IRI says. The average price per pound of goat cheese is $14.95, varying with holiday seasons and promotions.

IRI data indicate that goat’s milk cheese indexes highest with millennials and households with income greater than $100,000. The number of U.S. households buying goat’s milk cheese has increased 0.5 percent over the past year to 8.5 percent. Goat cheese volume also indexes highest in Boston, New England and other Northeast metro areas.

• New investments

Swiss-based Emmi has greatly increased its goat’s milk businesses since it first entered the category in 2010 with the acquisition of Cypress Grove in Arcata, California. Emmi since has acquired seven other goat’s milk product companies around the world, including Redwood Hill Farm, Sebastopol, California, in 2015; Spain’s Lácteos Caprinos in December 2016; and Meyenberg, Turlock, California, just last week.

“The segment of goat’s milk products is growing whereas consumption of cow’s milk products is stagnating or even declining in some countries,” says Sibylle Umiker, head of media relations, Emmi. “In addition, they generate higher margins compared to conventional cow’s milk products. Finally, sales of goat’s cheese are growing in countries that are particularly relevant for Emmi, such as the U.S. But, due to modest volumes, the goat’s milk products business is still a niche business for Emmi (less than 5 percent of the group’s total sales).

Umiker says Emmi encourages the businesses it acquires to continue operating their businesses autonomously, but the company also offers collaboration through its network of other companies and European master cheesemakers, and has made some additional investments in its goat’s milk acquisitions.

For example, six years after Emmi acquired Cypress Grove, the California company still is run by the same people who were there prior to the merger, though it has added a new production facility as well as a state-of-the-art goat farm that serves as a model goat dairy and learning center for aspiring goat dairy farmers in the United States and abroad.

LaClare Farms also has expanded in recent years, opening a new farmstead dairy plant in 2013 and significantly increasing its milk intake and cheese production.

“With more availability of goat’s milk for our plant, we will be able to produce at a much more optimal level than we have in the past,” Hedrich says, noting that more people are now actively looking at goat farming and producing quality milk. “We essentially have doubled the number of farms we are taking milk from in our plant ... we doubled the size of our herd, also. We do some farmstead cheese right here and are studying the potential of producing non-GMO products here on the farm.”

• Varied cheeses

Canada-based Saputo, which acquired Woolwich Dairy in October 2015, offers goat’s milk cheese through its U.S. cheese division in several formats, including logs, pails and crumbles. The company also offers imported specialty goat’s milk cheeses, such as Bries, spreads and aged items.

“We’ve observed growth in the goat cheese category, particularly in specialty deli and foodservice,” Goldberg says. “Saputo is constantly looking for new opportunities to meet consumer needs and drive excitement in the goat cheese category.”

In recent years, Saputo has launched single-serve goat cheese medallions as well as goat’s milk Cheddar in both shredded and sliced formats, all under the Joan of Arc brand.

Cypress Grove, one of the first major goat’s milk cheese producers in the United States, has grown slowly but steadily over its 30+ years, according to the company’s president, Pamela Dressler, who adds that the majority of Cypress Grove’s cheeses were the first of their type for U.S. goat’s milk cheeses.

“Humboldt Fog, for example, was the first soft-ripened goat cheese with ash. Now there are many,” she says. “Unique combinations of flavors such as lavender and fennel pollen, the use of dill pollen and an assortment of spices, set the fresh line on a pedestal.”

Cypress Grove’s ash-ripened Humboldt Fog remains its most popular cheese, Dressler says. She adds that the company’s imported cheeses, made in collaboration with a Dutch cheese master from a special recipe, continue to grow quickly.

“We are always playing with new cheese varieties and have several ‘in the kitchen’ at all times,” she says. “That said, we do not want to introduce a cheese just for the sake of having something new. We want it to be innovative and stellar.”

Hedrich also says LaClare Farms always is working on new cheeses. One of its more recent introductions is Cave-Aged Chandoka, a mixed cow’s and goat’s milk cheese aged in the Chicago-area Standard Market cheese caves, which was awarded second place overall at the 2015 American Cheese Society.

“We do mixed milk cheese because there still are a lot of people who are not sure they want to have only goat cheese. We look at it as an introductory cheese,” Hedrich says, adding that LaClare Farms has seen more and more demand for all its goat’s milk cheeses.

“Our cheese across the board has escalated in sales. That’s what we’re looking for. We don’t want to have all our eggs in one basket. We like having an array of different cheeses,” he says. “A lot of people are looking for a Pepper Jack-type cheese and do not realize it’s available in goat’s milk. You can do any kind of cheese — it’s up to the imagination of the cheesemaker and getting it out to the public.”

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