Food & Drink : Get your goat

Lactose intolerant? Goat milk could be the answer

When I tell people I’m allergic to milk — not intolerant, but actually allergic — they usually react casually enough: “Oh.” Then about 10 minutes later, as the idea finally filters down through their culinary subconscious, they say, “Oh my God, you can’t eat ice cream.”

Well, after 36 years of not, it turns out that I can, provided it’s goat’s-milk ice cream. I can also drink milk, eat pizza, yogurt, and a variety of cheeses. And what a revelation.

Goats on maternity leave? You can’t see it, but the lid on the yogurt container below gently warns consumers not to look for yogurt during the winter months. Apparently, goats have their kids in the winter and early spring. Redwood Hill Farm stops milking its goats two months before they deliver so the expectant moms can rest up and preserve their milk for the newborns.

My introduction to the world of goat’s milk came via a colleague with a similar allergy, who mentioned that she is able to tolerate milks other than cow’s, including sheep’s, and that goat’s butter is a delicacy.

I hesitated, mainly because, as a child, my hippie parents had given me goat’s milk. I remember it being a bit chunky, but going down uneventfully. However, perhaps because we were used to soy milk’s long shelf life, we accidentally let the milk go bad — I didn’t yet know what bad milk smelled like, but I sure learned what it tasted like, and that memory has kept me from the goat’s udder for more than two decades.

However, butter being one of the few dairy products I find hard to resist, I eventually relented, bringing home a large pat of St. Helen’s Farm goat’s butter, wrapped in gold foil and imprinted with the winning image of a beatific goat. It tasted sweet, light, and creamy on a sourdough baguette, and added a rich depth to kale’s mild cabbage flavor. I was instantly hooked on the taste of the butter and, best of all, my body didn’t swell, erupt, or otherwise reject it.

According to recent studies, 25 percent of whites in the U.S. experience lactose intolerance, but among African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans, prevalance of the allergy is as high as 75-90 percent. While symptoms vary, from mild bloating to abdominal pain to flatulance to diarhhea, that’s still a whole lot of people who aren’t able to eat ice cream.

Laura Howard, goat farmer and owner of Laloo’s Goat’s Milk Ice Cream Company, explains that many people with an intolerance to cow’s milk can tolerate goat’s milk because it is easier to digest. At birth, calves can weigh up to 50 pounds, so cows produce milk with large proteins and fat globules, and enough fatty acids to quickly plump their newborns up to 100 pounds. “That’s hard on humans,” says Howard. “A goat gives birth to a kid that weighs five or six pounds, much closer in size to humans.” And, unlike cow’s milk, if you leave a glass of goat’s milk on the counter, the cream won’t rise to the top because the milk is homogenized in the doe’s body.

Similarly, Howard adds, a person who is allergic to, rather than intolerant of, cow’s milk may have an easier time with goat’s milk for the same reason — the difference between the goat and cow proteins.

Where to buy it

Both Central Market and Whole Foods sell a variety of goat’s-milk products, including yogurt, cheese, butter, milk, and ice cream. However, the only Texas products they sell are from goat-cheese purveyors Pure Luck and Lone Star.

Pure Luck Farmstead, Dripping Springs, Texas
Plain, herb-crusted, red-pepper-crusted, black-pepper-crusted, chipotle, parsley-garlic, and pesto chevre
$19.99 a pound at Central Market and Whole Foods

Lone Star, Cleveland, Texas
Peppercorn-crusted and cilantro-garlic chevre
$3.59/4 ounces Central Market
$2.99/4 ounces Whole Foods

Laloo makes a line of gourmet goat’s-milk ice creams. On a recent evening, my dining companion and I tried cartons of the company’s Vanilla Snowflake and Black Mission Fig. The latter tasted like fresh fig — molasses sweet, with a puckery, slightly nutty undertone — and was so rich one could only eat a scoop at a sitting. It was wonderful paired with several scoops of the vanilla, which was delicately creamy and more like Italian gelato, the dining companion commented, than traditional ice cream.

But why, we wondered as we licked the carton clean, was the stuff so expensive? According to Howard, it has to do with supply and demand: Goats are much smaller and produce only 1 litre of milk a day, as opposed to a cow’s 10 litres. “There are only a small number of goat farms compared to the organized agri-business of the dairy industry,” says Howard, who keeps about 100 goats on her Sonoma County, California, farm and buys the rest of her milk from a couple of small family-owned farms.

In Texas, says Scott Horner, a research specialist at Texas A&M University-Prairie View, there are only about 25 dairy-goat farms, and of those only a handful are certified to produce milk. “There’s been an upswing in the last five years,” Horner says, citing a resurgence of the “back-to-the-earth” mentality as the cause. “But a lot of these little farms are just producing, soap, cheeses, and house milk.”

Very few goat dairies are able to produce enough goat’s milk or products to supply the larger grocery-store chains, which is why “you’ll find a lot more locally made cheeses at the farmer’s markets,” Horner says.

Howard agrees. “There’s really a shortage of goat’s milk. I have to compete with the cheese makers for the milk, and it costs four times more than cow milk — and the cost is going up as the demand goes up.”

I feel for her, but, man, is goat cheese delicious and — this might sound obvious, but remember I just started eating the stuff — various. The first week of eating cheese, I brought home Gouda, capra, three kinds of soft chèvre, and two sheep cheeses, manchego and brie. I’m especially fond of Central Market’s capra with honey, which is soft and slightly creamy, with a slightly tart flavor to balance out the honey. It makes a delightful dessert cheese served with a leaf of fresh basil, on bread or alone. Manchego is another favorite, with its dry, nutty flavor and, depending on its age, semi-firm consistency.

Goat’s-milk yogurt is also a creamy delight, but it may take a while for me to wean myself off of soy milk and soy yogurt; I can’t get used to the tongue-coating milk products leave.

Howard likes to call goat’s milk “good dairy,” because goats have a low impact on the environment: They sleep inside at night, and during the day they browse rather than graze. Say what? That’s right, contrary to popular belief, goats raised for milk and meat are very finicky eaters and don’t pick the earth bare. “Goats have a bad rep because of billy goats,” says Howard. “We raise nanny goats primarily. Now, if they get in your flower garden, forget about it. But they are not going to eat tin cans.”

Goat’s milk is also healthier for you. Howard says the industry hasn’t yet felt the pressure to pump its free-roaming goats full of growth hormones and antibiotics, and even if you don’t suffer from lactose intolerance, naturally low-fat milk is a good idea.

“The goat’s milk you get today is exactly how it was 1,000 years ago,” says Howard, echoing Horner. “It hasn’t been chemically changed, it doesn’t come from a lab, it comes from a small farm, and I think people are looking for those simple solutions.

“That’s why I was drawn to it. I think the hippies had it right.”


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