Chèvre, a pure white, mild, creamy cheese made from goats’ milk (chèvre means goat in French), has been the darling of many a chef for more than a dozen years. It’s found its way onto salad plates, inside quesadillas with kalua pig and sprinkled on top of pizzas. Production of this versatile, healthy cheese is on the rise as demand increases among chefs and consumers. Now, goat cheese is garnering attention for Hawai’i, as our Island chèvre producers win awards at the American Cheese Society competitions.
Chèvre was first produced on the Big Island in 1991 by Steven and Karin Sayres, located in Kurtistown. Their brand, Puna Goat Cheese, quickly became popular among Hawai’i Regional Cuisine chefs, but production ceased in 2000. The Sayres sold their herd of goats to Thomas Kafsack, a former software engineer from Germany, and his wife, Eva, a former high school German teacher. They established Surfing Goat Dairy at Öma’opio, Maui, in 2002, after learning about cheese making in Europe. The dairy about 200 goats grazing on 42 acres, producing 50 pounds of cheese a day. Surfing Goat Dairy offers Udderly Delicious, its plain chèvre brand, as well as feta (a brine-soaked cheese) and dozens of flavored varieties. This year, four of its flavored cheeses won awards in the American Cheese Society competition.
Culinary attributes aside, goat’s milk is far superior nutritionally to cow’s milk and is more easily digested by humans, claims Wooten. While chefs and consumers enjoy the delicious cheese from goats, farmers enjoy the goats themselves, citing their playful personalities and responsiveness. “Goats are the smartest animals I know,” says Kafsack. “They learn their names in two weeks, they are clean, they don’t need a lot of acreage. You can’t get attached to cows like this.”