Friday, October 3, 2008

Goats Are Our Friends

Allergic to cow's milk? Goats (and the occasional sheep) may be your friends as well.

Goat and sheep cheeses have long been staples in areas like Greece and Spain, where rugged country makes dairy cows impractical. In recent years goat cheese has gone from a gourmet treat to a mainstream staple. The new cheeses are light, fresh, and less "goat-y" in flavor. Even hard cheeses can be found in gourmet sections.

Goat and sheep cheese make wonderful substitutions as well as treats on their own. The simple log chevre can stand in for cream cheese, neufchatel, or cottage cheese in recipes. Peccorino romano, in the pint bin from Trader Joe's, substitutes handily for parmesan. These are widely available. For more specialized varieties, like goat ricotta, you must seek out an upscale market, cheese store, or mail order. Or go directly to the source.

Fortunately we live in foodie central, Northern California. One of the nation's finest goat farms is just "over the hill" on the coast, near Pescadero. Harley Farms produces wonderful cheeses, and it is a joy to visit. The cheese shop is open 7 days a week, with varieties like the ricotta that aren't always in the market. You can step upstairs to the great room overlooking the farm. Flower beds grow the edible flowers that adorn the charming Monet cheeses. The goats, under the watchful eye of their guard llamas, come tumbling in for milking in the late afternoon.

We were pleasantly surprised when Sunset Magazine included Harley Farms, and a photo of their wonderful "upper room" in the August issue.

Goat are a full-service dairy animal. They also provide milk, long considered superior to cow's milk for children and invalids, and easier to digest. Goat milk is a natural substitute for recipes where milky goodness is called upon, such as white sauce, bisque, or baking.

And miracle of miracles, we do find goat butter now and then. It's almost $10 a pound, so we use it sparingly. There is nothing quite like butter on toast or baked potatoes. Goat butter tastes slightly "off" compared to butter, as if the cows had gotten into the silage after eating fresh grass all summer. But I prefer it to all the chemical substitutes.

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