My first experience of goat’s milk was when I was camping with my Dad at about 8 years old in the Yorkshire Dales. We stayed in a field adjacent to a farmhouse and in the morning were invited to help milk the goats. As an 8 year old, this was extremely novel, so obviously I leapt at the chance! We had the milk on our cereal, which is, in my opinion the perfect way to have fresh milk. Even then I could recognise the difference to cow’s milk – creamy and rich. I loved the experience of it all and it seemed so special to be connected with the food in that way, farm to plate/bowl.
Although I wasn’t consuming much goat dairy when I was young, humans have been enjoying it as a super food for millennia. In fact, the wild bezoar or ‘wild goat’ was one of the first animals to be domesticated by humans. Many tribes would have goats, not only to provide milk & meat, but also to help with carrying heavy loads and fueling fires (using their dung!). The goat would provide many needs for the tribe and even into more modern times it would not have been uncommon for a family to keep a goat in their back garden!
Over the years I have certainly developed a taste for goat dairy and in particular goat’s cheese. It does feel like an acquired taste, something that develops as your palette matures perhaps. The milk is also full of health benefits and this has influenced the growth of the goat dairy industry over the last 30 years. People with intolerance to certain proteins which are commonly found in cow’s milk have often found goat’s milk to be a more digestible alternative. It has a number of great health benefits; it’s lower in cholesterol & lactose and is full of vitamins and minerals. In fact, goat’s milk is actually more commonly consumed than cow’s milk, mostly due to the number of developing countries still relying heavily on goats today and still using them for their main source of protein.
Modern day sees a huge number of goat’s milk products, with varying flavours, strengths and consistencies. As a chef I have certainly seen the increase of goat dairy products being used on menus which is rather refreshing.
One of the factors which have affected this growth in popularity has been the technological advances in shelf life. Goat’s cheese, traditional was more perishable than cow’s milk, ultimately resulting in a higher price. However with the introduction of various advances in the production, shelf life has been extended by making harder cheeses, just one of the ways goat dairy products are becoming more accessible.
Richard and Michelle Stevens moved to the Isle of Wight in 2013 from Berkshire. Richard has always worked in farming and was a herdsman on a cow dairy farm. 25 years ago they made the decision to farm their own Angora goats in Berkshire, for the beautiful fleeces. In 2005 they made the move to dairy goats and have never looked back. In 2015 they re-established their business with new accreditations and started the Island’s first commercial Goat Dairy. All of their 90 strong herd are free grazing and can often be seen from the main road from Yarmouth to Newport in-between Cranmore and Bouldnor. The herd is mainly British Saanen, with Golden Guernseys, British Toggenburgs, British Alpine and Anglo Nubian featuring too.
The range of products at The Green Barn have grown over the years and now includes plain and flavoured soft goat’s cheeses as well as a mature rind ripened cheese. But they don’t stop at cheese of course. They also sell goat’s milk, goat’s milk fudge and goat’s kefir. All of which are produced on the farm.
Michelle dropped off some samples last week and I got to try some of the fantastic products from The Green Barn range. One which really intrigued me was the goat’s milk kefir! Kefir is something I really enjoy and I was excited to try the goat’s milk version for the first time. As with any ferment it should be consumed in small doses initially to allow your stomach to adjust to the probiotics present in the drink. It is a far more complex flavour than cow’s milk kefir and I enjoyed it straight from the bottle and also with some granola and fruit.
Kefir which is a milk fermented using grains of yeast and lactic acid bacteria. It should be consumed in small quantities to allow your stomach to adjust to the probiotic properties.
The rind ripened cheese is a real artisan product with a lovely handmade feel about it, rustic in shape with a hard rind unlike any I have seen on a goat’s cheese. Cutting through it reveals a creamy centre and that unmistakable smell of goat’s cheese. The flavour was fantastic and needed no cooking or enhancing in any way. We enjoyed it with some crackers and chutney for our lunch and both mentioned how fresh it was. It was a lovely change from the mass produced goat’s cheese. To truly appreciate the flavours of the goat’s cheese I made a pithivier; a traditional French pastry or pie. You can try my recipe for yourself at the bottom of the article.
Michelle and I caught up to discuss the goat dairy industry in more depth
How has the goat dairy industry changed over recent years?
The many health benefits of Goats Milk has been recognised to a much higher extent over the recent years, which has lead to a wonderful increase in peoples wish to include it within their diet.
What are the specific challenges related to running your business on the IOW?
One challenge that does come to mind is the availability of resources, such as packaging, equipment and such, with the majority having to be delivered from the Mainland.
What do you enjoy about being based here, on the IOW?
Oh, there truly is so much. A lovely aspect is the strong community sense that the Island gives, with such a welcoming, ‘go for it’ approach. It brings a wonderful, eclectic footfall of visitors – some regulars too – which is always a highlight of the summer. This, along with the togetherness of the residents is really encouraging, not to mention the beautiful views when out on our deliveries!
What is your favourite way to eat goat’s cheese?
For me personally… with a spoon, straight out of the pot!
What’s next for Green Barn Farm?
We have recently introduced a new breed to our herd, with hopes to add more in the coming months. We also have plans in place for a few additions to our outside area, along with expanding our range of produce, gardenalia and such on offer in our Farm Shop. Our hope is to make The Green Barn a unique shopping destination for the Island.
Describe the life of a goat at Green Barn farm?
It’s a little life of luxury.
They all have free access to grazing, with their hay, feed and straw topped up on a daily basis to their every need. The youngsters play, lounge and cause mischief, with our amazing milkers relaxing, eating and providing us with their delicious fresh milk, that we also use for our goat kefir, goat cheeses and goat milk fudge.
I suspect the love and passion of Richard & Michelle for their farm is a huge contribution to that unmistakable artisan flavour that you get when tasting The Green Barn produce.
Goat’s cheese and leek pithivier with a chermoulah style dressing.
This dish is a perfect vegetarian option and it can be made as individuals or as a large ‘sharer’ as I have done it. I served it up for lunch last week and it was a great light spring treat, fresh and full of flavour. The goat’s cheese is not too strong so acts as a beautiful carrier for the spices and holds together really well when cooked.
1 pack ready rolled puff pastry
200g The Green Barn soft goat’s cheese
2 small leeks
20g Cold pressed rapeseed oil
1tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
Salt to taste
1 large banana shallot
1 small bunch fresh thyme, picked and chopped
1 egg for egg wash
30g pine nuts, toasted
- Wash and slice the leeks and dice the shallot finely
- Heat the oil in a pan and when hot add the shallot. Cook on a moderate heat until it turns translucent.
- Smash up the seeds in a pestle and mortar and add to the shallot to temper the spices.
- Add in the sliced leeks and season to taste.
- When the leeks are just cooked, remove and leave to cool.
- Mix with the goat’s cheese (crumble the cheese first with your fingertips to make it easier to mix) and the pine nuts.
- Lay the pastry out on the worktop and push the mixture into a suitably sized bowl (a cereal bowl for a large pithivier). Push firmly enough to pack it in but don’t squash it too much. Turn the mix out onto one half of the pastry, maintaining the domed shape of the bowl.
- Cut round a cake tin or plate bigger than the bowl in the remaining half of the sheet. This is for the lid and needs to be big enough to stretch over the filling.
- Egg wash the area of pastry directly around the filling and then lift over the lid, teasing and sticking the bottom bit by bit so that it doesn’t trap any air inside. Once completely covered score a pattern on the pastry using a sharp knife or razor blade.
- Egg wash the whole thing and lift onto a lined baking tray. Bake at 200C until golden (about 15 mins)
Small bunch parsley
Small bunch mint
Small bunch coriander
1 large clove IOW garlic
½ preserved lemon (belazu is a good brand for this.) If you want you can substitute for zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp cumin seeds
Pinch Maldon sea salt
50ml cold pressed rapeseed oil or olive oil
- Chop all the herbs together.
- Finely chop the garlic and then sit it on the pinch of salt on your chopping board. Use the side of your knife blade to squash the garlic into the salt. Quite quickly the salt will grind the garlic into a fine paste.
- Smash up the cumin seeds with the pestle and mortar
- Add the garlic paste and the herbs. Finely dice the preserved lemon (skin only) and add to the herbs
- Add the oil and mix well. Store in an airtight jar in the fridge