|Málaga-breed goat (photo by Assoc. de Criadores de la Cabra Malagueña).|
The breed, Cabra Malagueña (http://www.cabrama.com/index ), is a short-haired, cinnamon-colored goat, autochthonous to Málaga province. It is noted for being especially fertile and a good milk producer, adaptable to arid terrain where it makes good use of natural pasturage. There are around 200,000 Málaga-breed goats in the province, producing 70 million liters of milk per year. About 90 percent of the milk goes to big industrial cheese makers in La Mancha, Barcelona and France.
|Call lost and found--abandoned goat.|
I got my own goat. Getting rid of her was the hard part. It happened on Christmas Day, when the goatherd brought his herd across the hillside—as he has done many, many times before. Maybe he had had too much holiday brandy, because he lost control of his flock, which destroyed my vegetable garden. He finally drove them off my property and headed back over the hill. But he left one goat behind. Oddly, she had no bell. She moseyed about, cropping grass, shrubs and weeds. At night, when it rained a bit, she bumped at the front door, begging to be let in. I did not let her in!
Yes, there were jokes about goat stew. And, “milking it for all it’s worth”. (I wondered if she needed milking—apparently not, but I wouldn’t have known). She had an ID tag on her ear—but there was no one to call during a holiday week. It was nine days before we finally located the owner, who came to retrieve her. The goat was fine.
Years ago, there were several herds of goats in the village. They went out every morning to graze. As they passed through the streets, housewives would come out with their pails and the goatherd would milk the goats at their doorstep. The warm milk was carried to the kitchen and brought three times to a boil in a special milk-boiler. It was then ready to be poured into coffee, whisked into thick drinking chocolate, or cooked in a sweet pudding.
During the milking season, the goatherds made cheese with the excess milk, which I used to buy at a neighborhood shop. It was a small round of very white curds, marked by the woven esparto grass molds in which it was pressed. The cheese was soft and fresh, very mild in flavor, lightly salted. I never suffered any ill effects from eating raw-milk cheese, but I knew people who did. Nowadays it is prohibited by health regulations to sell fresh cheese made from unpasteurized milk.
So, along with a culinary colleague who was visiting (Lars Kronmark, who is a chef-instructor of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA http://www.ciachef.edu/california/) Greystone in Napa Valley, California), I went to see how goat’s milk cheese is made at an artisanal cheesemaker, El Pastor del Valle, http://www.elpastordelvalle.com/entrada.html in the nearby town of Alhaurín el Grande (Málaga).
Antonio Vera de la Rosa tends 750 Málaga-breed goats and his wife, Josefa (Pepi) Burgos Carabantes, makes cheese.
The milk comes by truck from the farm, where the goats are milked twice a day. The fresh cheese (queso fresco) starts with pasteurization of the milk. That destroys both good and bad bacteria and also changes the calcium balance of the milk. The curdling agent—rennet, a substance taken from baby goats—along with calcium chloride, which restores the calcium balance and firms up the curds, are added to the warm milk, which is allowed to set until it begins to curdle, or form curds.
The curds are cut with a lira, or lyre, a mechanical arm with steel threads that cuts the curds into bits about the size of lentils. The whey is allowed to drain off. The whey is collected—some is heated to make requesón—the same as ricotta, which just means “re-cooked”—the rest goes to feed pigs or, Pepi tells us, as fertilizer in avocado groves!
Pepi and her helper pack the curds into cheese-cloth-lined two-part plastic molds. The molds show a crosshatch pattern that mimics the woven esparto grass strips that were used in traditional cheese making. The molds are mounted on a horizontal press and squeezed to release further liquid.
|Pepi, left, is the master cheese maker. Lars, center, learns how Spanish goat cheese is made.|
|Removed from the molds, fresh cheeses are ready for brining.|
Splash! Cheeses go into the salmuera, a 15-percent salt solution, where they stay for 2 hours. Once drained, the fresh cheese is ready to eat. It keeps, refrigerated, for about 20 days.
Fresh goat’s cheese is my favorite snack food—toasted bread, olive oil, slices of cheese and raw onion. It also works as a dessert—serve it with a dribble of honey and some walnuts.
Semi-cured and cured cheese made from pasteurized milk start out much the same, but they require the addition of lactic fermentation agents, which are destroyed by pasteurization, that convert milk sugar into lactic acid, producing the characteristic cheese flavor. Semi-cured cheese needs a minimum of 20 days of aging; cured, more than 2 months, and viejo, aged, more than 6 months.
The rinds are rubbed with olive oil. Some are dusted with rosemary or pimentón (paprika), which add flavor.
|Semi-cured cheese--good for melting.|
Pepi says she makes raw milk cheese maybe only once a month, because it requires a very stringent hygienic protocol. Raw-milk cheese requires nothing further than rennet, as the milk’s natural bacteria provide the lactic ferments that give it character. It does require aging a minimum of two months, after which it is safe to eat.
The raw milk cheese from El Pastor del Valle is rubbed with Ibérico pork fat, adding another layer of umami flavor to the cheese, which is slightly splintery, slightly piquant.
Today’s cheese making produces about 300 half-kilo (1-pound) cheeses from about 750 liters (quarts) of milk. Expand? No, says Pepi. “We don’t want to be big industry. We want to make only what we can store and sell.” El Pastor del Valle distributes to shops in Málaga province and, by order, to restaurants.
|Raw milk cured goat's milk cheese.|
Uvas y queso saben de beso. Grapes and cheese taste like a kiss. A little breathy, very sweet. I love raw milk cured goat's cheese with amontillado Sherry or with a verdejo white wine. Tannins in red wine seem to get in the way of the flavors of aged goat’s cheese.
Woven strips of esparto once used to mold the fresh cheese.
|Málaga-breed dairy goats (photo from Associacion de Criadores).|