Cheese is a hot topic at our house—but I think that’s the norm, isn’t it? I have yet to meet a man or a first-grader who doesn’t list one of the countless cheeses as a top-5 favorite food.
And I’ve watched many a woman pondering, hovering, at the dairy cooler at Trader Joe’s —“Should I go with the gouda, or goat brie? Maybe I should give this Camembert a try—I wonder how that would be with fruit?”
It’s serious business.
So, when I say it’s a hot topic at our house, I really do feel like I’m preaching to the choir. It’s just that on this issue (as numerous others), I feel like we’re singing a little different song.
Given my findings on the differences in the digestibility of different types of milk, I’m not one to run to just any grocery store and pick up just any old fromage. Often, I’m looking for something made from goat’s milk or a raw cow’s milk—both of which are rather tough to come by in the standard dairy aisle.
Studies have shown that goat dairy is much more digestible for most people than cow dairy, even when both are pasteurized (the pasteurization process for any type of milk, used to kill unwanted bacteria, also destroys inherent enzymes that would otherwise be present to help digest the milk. Pasteurization can also alter the proteins and sugars in the milk.)
This digestibility factor is huge, especially when one considers the amount of cheese that most families eat. In our family, it’s a part of lunch generally, is often handed out as a snack with a piece of fruit or a carrot, and sometimes even makes its way to the dinner plate.
If I’m feeding my family something that is a challenge for them to digest, multiple times a day, then I’m not doing anyone any favors.
Enter the goat—its milk has many factors that tend to make it a better choice for regular consumption. Here are a few reasons why:
• It is much lower in a substance called alpha-S1 casein, a protein that is a major allergen in cow’s milk.
• It naturally has much smaller-sized, evenly-dispersed fat globules than cow’s milk, which leads to a naturally homogenized milk (commercially-prepared cow’s milk is mechanically homogenized, a process that takes butter fat and transforms it into tiny spheres of fat containing a potent digestive enzyme that pass intact through the walls of the stomach and small intestine without first being properly digested. Once these enzyme-containing spheres enter the blood and lymph, the enzyme can come free from the fat and cut whatever vessel it is in. These micro-injuries to the vessel wall require cholesterol to repair the wound, leaving behind cholesterol plaques—hence, hardening of the arteries and other cardiovascular damage as the end result.)
• This natural homogenization of goat’s milk is due to the fact that the milk does not contain agglutinin, and when fat globules are not bunched together, they’re much easier to digest (and they don’t offer up the mechanical-homogenization problems listed with homogenized cow’s milk.)
• Goat’s milk also contains different types of fatty-acid chains—it’s higher in short- and medium-chain fatty acids than cow’s milk, which are more easily digested in the intestines.
• Goat’s milk tends to pass much more quickly through the stomach than cow’s milk, likely due to how its proteins react with the stomach acids—it creates a softer curd in the stomach than cow’s milk, making it more digestible.
(For more information on the effect of pasteurization on milk, see Ultra-Pasteurized Milk. This link will open to the Weston A. Price Foundation’ssite, an invaluable tool in understanding the effects of modern diets on our health. It’s also a great starting place to find sources of raw milk in your area.)
Thankfully, our family enjoys the taste of the various goat cheeses—2 staples are the imported Dutch gouda and the pre-sliced Dutch from Trader Joe’s. And I also love their goat brie—it’s a dream melted with fresh strawberries on the side.
But we also enjoy raw cow varieties—the issues related to homogenization and pasteurization are moot, making these choices much easier to digest.
Again, I really like the raw Gruyeres and Emmantelers from Switzerland and found at Trader Joe’s—although they’re not organic, they are rBST-free. And we are big fans of all the Organic Valley raw offerings, though these are quite a bit more costly. There are also raw artisan selections, crafted in smaller batches, that are a true treat when we find them.
Where do you find these types of prepared cheeses if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods nearby? Try using these tools to find sources near you (each of the following will open to new pages): Azure Standard natural food co-op is a great resource in the western United States; and the Coop Directory Service is a great locater of natural food cooperatives in your area; finally,Greenpeople.org lets you enter your zip code or region to find nearby cooperatives and natural food stores.
Once you’ve located a source, if you’re using a raw cheese, have gone to the trouble to procure it (and have likely paid a premium for it), keep it raw. Don’t cook your raw cheeses—you’ll destroy those lovely enzymes. Use a pasteurized goat’s milk cheese for that purpose (such as in an omelet or over steamed vegetables.)
My favorite cheeses, though, are made from scratch, using raw milk, sea salt and healthy cultures. It takes time to do this, and there have been many an instance where I ended up with a gallon of a cultured dairy delight that more closely resembled yogurt than cheese solids and whey. So, sometimes things turn out differently than I might have expected, but I’m never disappointed—just surprised!
There is something so very satisfying to my soul in taking fresh, raw milk that I’ve just received from a local farmer , pouring it into a big pot and adding cultures and rennet to make a lovely, homemade cheese. It just feels right—might be my Scotch-Irish DNA singing to me.
And should you decide to make your own cheese—well, let me tell you, folks are going to think you’re doing something mighty special at your house. And you will be. But the beauty of making cheese, especially a soft cheese as I’ve made time and again, is that it makes itself—just give it good ingredients, let it sit for a while, then separate the curds from the whey. (To this day, one of the dearest compliments I’ve received was when a neighbor tried my cheese. She’d lived for years in Italy and was familiar with hand-crafted food—and when she took a bite and smiled, “I haven’t had something this good since I lived in Italy,” I was over the moon!)
Cultures for Health is an excellent resource for recipes and all the ingredients you’ll need (less the milk!) to make your own. From the reasons why you should bother, to supply lists, to the pros and cons of raw vs. pasteurized milk, to storage and aging, you’ll be in the know on making this delicacy at home.
I encourage you to consider these points and suggestions when you make your purchases—it may take some effort in finding a source near you, but the rewards are there, and once you get your sources down, it’s much easier.
And most definitely, do consider making your own cheese, at least once. Let me know what you learn, how it turns out and any other tidbits you feel like sharing. I look forward to hearing from you!