"What is your most popular cheese?" a customer asks me as I man my humble cheese booth at the Union Square Farmers Market on a crisp fall afternoon. This is the biggest and busiest market in NYC and it's not the first time I was asked that question today, nor will it be the last. The reality is that this question has become an on-going joke between me and my co workers. Whatever cheese you are trying to push on any that particular day is your "most popular cheese," and the answer will vary according to who you ask.
And then comes the second most frequently asked question I get from customers working at these markets (and one that I believe hints at the answer to the first): "Are these all goat cheeses?" I'm not sure what New Yorkers fascination is with goat cheeses, but I definitely think it's worthy of investigation. In reality, my farm is mainly a sheep dairy farm. We do not have many goats or many goat products, but that doesn't stop people from assuming we are a goat farm. And one thing is clear: the people want goat.
It is safe to say that on any given day our fresh chevre goat cheese is one of our hottest selling products. I usually sell out of my entire stock by noon. Hard aged goat cheese is also a best-seller. Just today I sold out of the 5 pounds I brought long before the market was halfway over. We simply cannot produce or pack enough goat cheese to fulfill the demand at these markets. And it's not just goat cheese they are after. I get frequent requests for goat butter, goat yogurt, and raw goat milk.
When I'm not busy selling or making cheese, I spend my time reading about cheese, talking about cheese, and buying cheese. It's safe to say that I am obsessed with all things cheese. So naturally, when I noticed how popular goat cheese was here I wanted to get to the bottom of it. In their book, Mastering Cheese, Max McCalman and David Gibbons describe goat cheeses as being at the forefront of the so-called “Great American Cheese Renaissance”, ignited by 1960’s counterculture and evolving into the 1980’s. So what is it exactly about goat cheese, aside from its delicious flavor, that has caused it’s recent resurgence in popularity?
It is no doubt that the demand for goat products is driven in part by the health conscious farm market crowd and slow food proponents. There are many studies that suggest that goat’s milk is more beneficial to human health than cow’s milk. It is also believed that goat milk products are more easily digested than their cow milk counterparts. In addition, the perceived humane nature of goat farming practices may be driving demand on some level. Today, a customer told me that they prefer sheep and goat cheeses to cow’s because “they tend to treat their animals more nicely.” When discussing this trend with one of my cheese making associates in Germany, she informed me that the demand for goat products mirrors that of the United States, largely driven by the slow food movement.
My suggestion for restaurants looking to offer a fresh and delicious option for the growing body of slow food advocates is to incorporate goat cheeses into their menu. Therefore, my recommendation is for restaurants to offer guests fresh goat cheese meals. The growing demand for healthy slow food and rising health conciousness of eaters, should not be ignored. If you adapt to your customers' needs and trends, you will stand out from the competition. You will see more and more satisfied guests - without much effort! The good thing about goat cheese is that it is extremely versatile. Fresh goat cheese can be incorporated into many existing dishes as an exciting alternative, including salads, omeletts, burgers, lasagne, and even cheese cakes. The possibilities are endless. I’ll leave the delicious details up to the people that do the cooking. As for now, I’ve got-to-goat.