It’s been a while since I’ve milked a goat — twenty years (at least) but I’m very proud to report that I have not forgotten how.
Goats are one of the principle ingredients in the vast Norwegian landscape — like salt and pepper sprinkled across the high granite mountains and shiny green valleys. No matter where I roam in western Norway, I’m sure to find a goat or two along the way. In tiny Undredal, a storybook village at the end of a great valley at the edge of a great fjord, the goats outnumber people five to one.
“When the kids are all away at school, there’s about 80 of us here in this town,” reports Anna Karine Marstein, a co-owner and operator of Undredal Dairy. As for the goats? Anna’s dairy has 224 milking ewes right now, and the town’s total is closer to 500.
All 224 goats must be milked twice a day, a time-intensive task managed by the farmhand from Spain who beckons “his ladies” from the field and into the barn.
“Ladies, ladies! Come on ladies!” he shouts, and the goats obey, swarming the feed bay where they are attached to the milking machine. The warm and frothy milk is pumped into large stainless steel tanks from which it is turned into geitost (yayt-ost) “goat cheese”, also known as brunost or “brown cheese”.
One unique quality of brown geitost is that all of the milk is used, including the whey and casein. After the cheese is formed, it is boiled for as long as a day, a process that caramelizes the natural milk sugars and gives the cheese its signature sweet flavor, as well as its trademark brown color.
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“We are part of the Norwegian soul,” says Anna Karine, and she is grateful that her family can uphold such an important tradition as geitost. The Vikings used to carry (and milk) goats on their ships, and boating through any fjord, one can gaze up at the abandoned goat farms of yesteryear, nestled on some impossible perch a thousand feet up.
Goats are a way of life in Norway and have been since Norway began. Since I’ve arrived, I’ve been served creamy brown geitost for breakfast nearly every day. It’s a unique taste that I will always associate with this country, with the beautiful goats that roam hill and vale, and with the fond memory of the last time I milked goats.