The dog was the first animal domesticated by humans; the goat was the second. Goats were first kept as a source of meat and hide, but by about 9000 B.C., keepers realized they were even more valuable alive. A year's milking provided the nutritional equivalent of a slaughtered animal, and while sheep require grass, goats are defiantly unpicky, happily munching on scrubby woods, in areas otherwise unsuited to agriculture.
"Milk" in the Western Hemisphere conjures images of a cow, but goat's milk is favored elsewhere. Goats seem born to meet that demand, giving more milk per pound of body weight than any other dairy animal. Goat's milk has slightly less lactose (sugar) than cow's milk. More significantly, its fats are of the short-chain variety, so people with milk allergies can often digest goat's milk. It doesn't separate like cow's milk, making homogenizing unnecessary.
Where there's milk, cheese follows. Since goat's milk lacks carotene, the resulting cheeses are pristine white. Goat cheese is generally tart, and traditional varieties are often heavily salted (think brine cured feta).
Goat cheese wasn't produced commercially in the United States until the 1980s, but artisan cheese-makers are quickly rectifying that situation. No country has developed a more diverse selection of goat cheeses than France. Chevre (SHEHV-ruh or SHEHV), French for "goat," is a soft, white cheese with a tart but delicate taste; Bucheron, Banon and Montrachet are some common types.
—By Jo Marshall, Creator of Cookcabulary