Tasting Goats Milk

20 09 2011

I saw this post today at The Prairie Homestead, and it got me thinking about my first experiences with goat milk.

When I first got the goats, I had no plan on ever drinking the milk. Strange, right? Why on earth did I agree to get a herd of DAIRY goats, and not plan on drinking the milk?

I loved milk, I still do. I loved the flavor of whole milk, the rich creamy flavor, how it clung to my palate. I liked cream, I would add heavy cream to my whole milk some days just so it was creamier. I was addicted to store bought cow’s milk. Most of the time, I went out of my way and budget to buy organic milk. I thought it tasted better. Once in a blue moon, I would treat myself to the milk that came in the glass bottles. It wasn’t homogenized, but it was still pasteurized. I felt that being able to poor the cream off into my cup and drink it all at once was decadent. And as a very special, rare treat, I would fork over the cash for some raw cow’s milk, when I could find it.

I hated goat’s milk. I had bought some of the stuff that comes in the 1 quart cardboard containers before, and felt it fell flat in flavor to the rich creamy goodness of cow’s milk. Oh, I just didn’t know any difference. The store bought goat’s milk was awful. It tasted so old, so flat, so cardboardy. How could anyone be willing to drink this? And don’t even get me started on the price of store bought goat’s milk products: cheese, milk, yogurt. Those prices are outrageous.

So knowing how I felt about all of this, I still went ahead and took possession of that herd of goats. M and I milked them together the first couple of weeks. It was a terrible experience. The goats didn’t know us, we didn’t know them. They were in a new and strange place with new, strange people and a new, strange routine.

They came to us with everything the previous owner had been feeding them: 1 musty bale of hay that I thought for sure was straw until they started eating it, and 2 bags of C.O.B. mix.(COB is Corn, Oats, and Barley, with a heavy coat of molasses on it. The corn makes the milk taste funky, which we soon found out.) The previous owner would just catch the goats in no particular order, tie them up one at a time to a fence, and start milking.

The goats were so poorly behaved, most of the milk from that first week M and I were milking them ended up on the ground or down the drain.

The precious little we managed to get from the goats that didn’t get stepped in, kicked, or knocked over had an unforgettable “grassy” flavor. It was repulsive. It tasted like a mouthful of grass from the lawnmower bag. It confirmed everything I had previously though about goat milk: it tasted like shit.

So I started making plans to use the milk to make soap, began down sizing my herd, used up that crappy feed the lady had given us and switched all the goats over to ultra-premium hay and grain. It took me a while to realize I didn’t have to control the goats with grain, but I had to get knocked over and stepped on a few times for that lesson to sink in.

But a miraculous thing started to happen. As the goats got better nutrition and started looking, acting and feeling healthier, as we settled into some semblance of routine and order, as we all got more comfortable with each other, the flavor of that milk began to change. It kept getting sweeter, richer and creamier. It became downright delicious, and pretty soon I realized we hadn’t bought cow’s milk in quite a while. When I realized that, I went right out to the store and bought some cow milk. I needed a side by side flavor comparison. What I realized was that the flavor of whole cow’s milk was flat and watery and stale tasting compared to this fresh, raw goat milk. My skin had cleared up, my teeth were whiter and felt stronger, milk no longer left me with stale breath after I drank a glass.

I was drinking more milk than ever, I couldn’t get enough goat milk. I can no longer drink cow milk unless it is a dire emergency. It’s been long enough that my gut gets upset when I drink pasteurized, homogenized cow milk.

My milk is probably more expensive now that it ever was. I spend many hours a day making sure the goats have access to fresh pasture and browse (weeds!) I spend time thinking about them, worrying about them, planning for a future with them. I spend time cleaning their pen and sleeping areas, making sure they have water, and that they are warm and dry when the weather gets bad. I keep my chickens in with the goats so we can keep the bugs down, which adds a whole new level of complexity to caring for the goats. My partner spends several hours a week working to make sure we have money to buy hay for them, and that we have a buck for kids and milk next year. This all takes a great deal of time, energy, and effort. Much more so than going to the store and picking up a gallon when we are low. But all that work makes this milk taste better than anything I could buy from a store.

I love sharing this with other people. I love watching the look of disbelief come over a non-believers face when I force that first sip of fresh milk on them. I love talking to people who remember what real milk used to taste like, and want to get on a mailing list for a goat share next year. I love that there is enough interest in a goat share for me to go ahead and start doing the research this Winter. Next year is going to be amazing, and I am going to have so many people to share it with.

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