Goats really love me. I do realise that that is a strange statement, but it’s true. Last year, my class and I visited a small organic goat farm on a study trip to the Italian Tyrol (I was a student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, so the destination isn’t as weird as it sounds) and the owner of the farm let the herd of goats out of their pen to come and say hi. Within a minute or two, several of the beardy little fellas had jumped up to put their hooves on my chest, sticking their snuffly noses into my face just like a dog would. None of the goats did the same thing to anyone else, prompting one of my classmates to dub me the Goat Whisperer (which, if you ask me, would make a far better television programme than Jennifer Love Hewitt’s ghostly equivalent, but then having ludicrous opinions like this is probably one of the reasons I’ll never be trusted to run a TV network.) It’s one of the stranger accolades I’ve been given over the years. I wonder if I could put it on my CV.

Of course, not only do they find me inexplicably appealing, but I really dig goats, too. I love their neat little noses, and the way they always look a little bit like they’re smiling at you. I love their weird rectangular pupils and their little tippy-toe feet, and the way they want to eat absolutely everything in sight like they’re permanently PMS-ing. I love their beards. And of course, goats give us some fantastic milk. You know I love cow milk and aaall associated products, but I’m nothing if not an equal-opportunity dairy addict, so here are eight reasons why Billy Goat Gruff does it better:

  1. Goat’ milk is lower in fat than its bovine counterpart. Furthermore, because its fat globules are naturally small and suspended in the milk (rather than rising to the top as cream, like in cows’ milk) there is no convention of homogenising goats’ milk. This means it’s a more natural product.
  2. It provides more protein and more calcium than cows’ milk.
  3. It is easier to digest, as chemically it’s more similar to human breast milk than cows’ milk is.
  4. It has about ten percent less lactose, making it a kickass dairy alternative for those people unfortunate enough to be cursed with lactose-related issues.
  5. Goat milk contains a load of vitamins, along with other good stuff like essential amino acids, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and niacin.
  6. Statistically-speaking, goats’ milk causes fewer allergenic problems than that of cows and does not encourage the production of mucus. (On a separate note, “mucus” has to be one of the most evocatively disgusting words in the English language. Even typing it is kind of gross..)
  7. Goat farming is significantly more environmentally-friendly than raising cattle, because they require far less space and food. In addition, while intensive factory farms have become the norm for the cattle industries of many countries, we don’t have the same horrific approach to goat farms: they tend to be smaller in scale, without the cramped conditions or reliance on hormones and antibiotics that dairy cows are subject to in many countries.
  8. Goats are efficient in utilising resources. Not only can they climb so well that it’s almost bizarre, but they will eat any shred of anything they can get their tiny hooves on. This means that they can live off land that would be completely unsuitable for cattle.

These are all excellent reasons to go for goat products, but the most important one in my greedy little eyes is that goats’ cheese is fricking delicious; creamy and often quite floral and herbaceous, depending on what the little loves have been munching on. France is well-known for its chèvre salads, with rounds of aged fresh goats’ crottins grilled onto slices of baguette and piled over dressed leaves.

While France may be the most famous, there are some absolutely stellar variations of goats’ cheese being made across Europe and, from what I hear, in the States too. Here in Ireland, I highly recommend Bluebell Falls Goats’ Cheese, while my perennial favourite is the organic St. Tola made in Co. Clare; I also love Knockdrinna Snow, a “goat Camembert.” While soft varieties are the first to come to mind, there are also some wonderful hard goats’ cheeses out there – try the semi-hard Knockdrinna Gold, a sweet and nutty washed-rind cheese often aged to eight months, or the lovely Goat Gouda made by Wicklow Farmhouse Cheese.

If you manage not to eat the goats’ cheese the second you get it in the door, kudos to your self control, and as your reward there are loads of tasty treats you can make with it. Pop it on a cheeseboard, obviously, or crumble it over a salad or into a bowl of soup. Melt it onto a pizza, make a goats’ cheese and tomato toasted sandwich, or bake it with some honey.

The following is a recipe for goat cheese tartlets (does that word make anyone else think of the stoned restaurant owner in Friends? “Tartlet. Tartlet. Tartlet. Word has lost all meaning.”) We often have these as a vegetarian-night dinner in our house; if I was having the girls over, they’d also make a very impressive lunch, or a dinner party starter.

This is a fairly loose and informal recipe, because it’s incredibly easy and you can really put the tartlets together any damn way you see fit. It’s a minimum effort, maximum reward sort of supper (although you could of course make your own pastry if you had the time and fancied working from scratch.)

First grab these:

  • Pack of pre-prepared frozen puff pastry
  • Log of goats’ cheese of your choice, cut into ½” thick rounds
  • Sauce/spread/dip of your choice: pesto (basil, sun-dried tomato, wild garlic), red onion marmalade, cranberry sauce, apricot jam, honey, chutney… whatever you think would pair best with your oozy melted goats cheese.
  • A few ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced (optional, but tasty)

Now do this:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C.
  2. Roll out a sheet of puff pastry, and cut it into rectangles/squares in whatever size you’d like your individual tartlets to be. It’s completely your call: I like them somewhere in the 6×3 inch region.
  3. Use the tip of a sharp knife to draw a border about half an inch in from the perimeter of each rectangle, but be careful not to cut all the way through the pastry.
  4. Spread some of your chosen sauce onto the centre of each rectangle, staying inside the border you’ve just drawn. Layer on a few slices of tomato, if using.
  5. Pop a few rounds of goats’ cheese on to each tartlet. Stick them in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the pastry has puffed up around the edges and the cheese is melted, golden and bubbling away seductively.
  6. Serve with whatever you’d like: a salad is nice in warm weather, but since we rarely get said warm weather in Ireland I did this week’s batch with roasted cauliflower and sweet potato and some garlic-buttered mangetout. You could try other veggies, or maybe some potato wedges.

What’s your favourite way to eat goats’ cheese? Have you got a strange affinity with any particular animal? And am I seriously the only one who can’t hear the word “tartlet” without thinking about Friends? If you’ve got somethin’ to say, leave me a comment below.

[Featured photo and Photo 3 property of Jocelyn Doyle; Photo 2 featured via ShutterStock.]