Goats of every color!

20 August 2020

Thanks to numerous editions of Cheese, we’ve learned a lot about the elements which influence the quality of milk and the cheeses made with it. The quality of the pasture, the techniques of processing, and not least, the animal breeds adapted to the natural characteristics of their territories.

As Giampaolo Gaiarin told us in an interview last year, “The best breed is the one that adapts best to the conditions of its environment, to the altitude where it lives, and to the forage that it eats.”

“If we take a Friesian cow and take her up to 2000 meters above sea level, she will have great difficulty adapting. On the other hand, if I take a Tyrol Grey cow, which is used to the mountains, down to the plains of the Po Valley, she will also have difficulty.”


We’re used to thinking of cows as all being black-and-white, like the Holstein, and that goats are white, like the Saanen.

This vision of the world isn’t entirely wrong, because these are the most common breeds of cow and goat in the world, but at the same time, the problems that result from this way of thinking should be explored. Over time, humanity has selected the most productive breeds – the average production of a Holstein cow is 30 liters of milk a day, or 9000 liters for every lactation cycle, almost double the 5000 liters produced by a Tyrol Grey – but this choice prioritizes quantity over the quality of the milk, as well as causing a decrease in the numbers of local breeds.

According to the FAO there are 7745 different local breeds: and 26% of them are at risk of extinction, while there isn’t adequate information for 67%. Only 7% of these local breeds can be safely considered not to be at risk. In Europe, half of the breeds which existed at the beginning of the 20th century are already gone forever.


Despite our love for the Saanen, we know that the goat universe is much wider, and we’d like to share our appreciation for the rich diversity of goat breeds still being raised today.

We’ll be exploring just how varied the goat world is in a Taste Workshop. A Cheese for Every Goat.

So if you thought all goat cheese tasted more-or-less the same, think again!


A heard of Girgentana goats. Photo: Salvatore Bordonario

From Sicily, the Girgentana Goat (Slow Food Presidium), its coat as white as the Saanen but unmistakable for its long, spiral horns. It’s pasture-raised (with the addition of beans, barley, oat and carob to its diet) and its milk, known for its exceptional quality and balance between fats and protein, has always been consumed directly. The Presidium has worked over the years to promote cheeses made entirely with the milk of the Girgentana goat (a robiola and semi-aged cheese) to restore economic dignity to the herders, and encourage the growth of the herds.


The Garganica Goat, a Slow Food Presidium. Photo: Alberto Peroli

With the Garganica Goat (Slow Food Presidium) we change color completely. It’s rRaised wild with its long, smooth, jet-black fleece, and its milk is traditionally used for the production of cheeses: canestrato, which is consumed fresh or aged, and cacioricotta, and ancient cheese of the pastoral tradition. Its meat is also consumed: strips 20-30cm long and 2-3cm thick flavored with chili pepper, wild fennel, garlic and salt, to create a cured meat called musciska.


Cilento cacioricotta, Slow Food Presidium. Photo: Giuseppe Cucco

Divided into three sub-breeds that are grey, reddish-brown or black the Cilentana goat is a breed on the Ark of Taste from Campania. It’s still raised according to traditional methods in a wild or semi-wild state on the pastures of the Cilento National Park and the Diano Valley near Salerno. Almost all its milk is used for the production of cacioricotta, one of the symbolic cheeses of the southern Italian dairy tradition.


Marzolina, Slow Food Presidium. Photo: Alberto Peroli

The Ciociara goat has a grey coat and is native to Lazio. Its milk is used to make an extremely interesting cheese, Marzolina (Slow Food Presidium), with its cylindrical or truncated cone shape, white paste that is compact and flaky, with small holes. The color is initially as white as milk, but after eight months in oil, it becomes ivory white. It’s a hard, dry cheese, and made even more mushy after spending such a long time in olive oil.


Coming much further north to Piedmont, where the Roccaverano goat (Ark of Taste) is another goat whose color can vary significantly: from white to black or brown, whether spotty, mottled or uniform, while some have a dark line along the spine. Its known, in part thanks to Slow Food, for the Robiola di Roccaverano (Slow Food Presidium), but in this workshop we’ll taste a different form of its milk: a rekneaded lactic curd.


by Silvia Ceriani, info.eventi@slowfood.it