According to the Chinese zodiac, 2017 is the year of the rooster. But the rising popularity of goat’s milk products means it’s feeling a lot more goat-like. Goat’s milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, sour cream, eggnog, ice cream and even goat meat—are more popular than ever.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada confirms that in 2011, there were approximately 225,000 goats on 9,000 farms in Canada, with the number of goats in Canada almost doubling since 1996. In 2015, Ontario Goat said goat’s milk production in the province was estimated at 42 million litres, up 200% since 2005.
What’s behind the rising popularity of goat products? For one thing, goat’s milk farming is a great option for young farmers who are interested in breaking into the dairy industry. Goat farming is not supply managed like the cow’s milk dairy industry; farmers can make their own decisions about production and sales. Goat’s milk products are also faster to market than cow’s milk products; goat’s cheese, for example, can be sold fresh and young.
For shoppers, it’s all about nutrition and health benefits: goat’s milk is lower in lactose and easier to digest than cow’s milk (93% of people with a cow’s milk allergy can digest goat’s milk) and it’s also high in protein, calcium, magnesium and vitamins A, B6, C, K and E.
“There has been an increased curiosity and demand for goat’s milk products, particularly in the last five years or so,” says Roxanne Renwick, cheese specialist at Toronto’s Summerhill Market. “Shoppers have become more sophisticated and adventurous in their food choices.”
She also notes the recent move away from cow’s milk to alternatives such as coconut, almond, cashew and pea milks and, of course, goat and sheep’s milks. To add to that, Canadian producers have upped their game. “Canadian goat’s milk farmers and cheese makers are bringing to market fantastic new products that rival the longstanding traditional European cheeses being imported,” she says.
Adding to the buzz is that two major processors of cow’s milk have moved into goat milk production in recent years: Gay Lea Foods Co-operative acquired Hewitt’s Dairy in Hagersville, Ont., in 2014 while Montreal-based Saputo bought Woolwich Dairy, the largest goat cheese manufacturer in Canada, in 2015.
Gay Lea officially began to process goat milk in November 2014, and today, the company manages around 40% of the goat milk produced in Ontario through brokering and processing initiatives. “It’s an exciting time in the North American dairy goat industry,” says Larry Hook, vice-president of sales and marketing at Gay Lea Foods. “More consumers are becoming aware of goat milk’s nutritional benefits and versatile flavour profile.”
The Gay Lea product that Hook is most excited about is the new goat cheddar cheeses. “The Jalapeño and Salsa varieties are unique, while the aged cheddar we’re now introducing has great texture and flavour.” The company has also developed a goat sour cream that will launch this fall and plans to expand its line of goat milk–based dips, milk and butter products in the near future.
Finica Food Specialties, through its Celebrity brand, got on the goat band- wagon years ago. It’s part owner of Mariposa Dairy near Lindsay, Ont., the second largest goat cheese producer in Canada. “Back in 2002 when we launched our Celebrity Cranberry & Cinnamon goat’s cheese, we helped build the demand for goat’s milk cheeses in Canada,” says Paul Blake, president of Finica Food Specialties.
Now the Celebrity assortment includes numerous goat cheese varieties, a goat brie and, launched late last year, a goat’s milk butter. Churned from 100% Canadian goat’s milk, the butter is free of emulsifiers and colouring and is suitable for followers of kosher and halal diets. “It’s a niche product right now; we just got started,” says Blake. “We’re hoping that as more consumers try it, they’ll discover how spreadable it is and how great it tastes.”
Aside from goat’s milk products, Canadian demand for goat meat is also up. The lean, iron-rich meat is inexpensive, acceptable for Hindus and Muslims to consume and is kosher (if it’s not cooked in its mother’s milk). Its rising popularity is likely due to increased immigration from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, regions where goat meat is traditionally eaten.
“Goat is definitely on the rise,” says Laurie Fries, the chair of Alberta Goat Breeders. “Canadians want good quality alternatives to frozen imported goat meat, and more people are looking for healthy and locally sourced product.” She adds that traditional farms are also beginning to incorporate goats into their regular operations. At this time, Canada can’t produce enough goat meat to keep up with the demand, so the meat is also imported from New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
Because ethnic shoppers in Canada prefer to get their goat meat fresh at smaller ethnic stores instead of buying frozen product, it’s not easy to find goat meat in a regular grocery store. But eventually, if the demand for goat meat continues to grow, it will only be a matter of time before we see it in mainstream supermarkets. In the meantime, bring on the goat’s milk cheeses, butters and sour creams—goat’s milk products are here to stay.