Goat cheese

The other day I was at the grocery store, and the cheese counter had samples out of something. Another customer was standing between me and the actual blocks of cheese the samples were taken from, so I had no idea what they were, but I went ahead and popped one in my mouth.

Train of thought: “Oh, wow, this is amazing, this is — UGH BLEAGH IT’S GOAT CHEESE GET IT OUT GET IT OUT GET IT OUT.”

I have no idea what’s going on chemically with goat cheese, but invariably I have this type of reaction, where for a second or two it’s lovely, and then I get hit by a freight train of something so unpleasantly pungent, it lingers with me for a good five minutes afterward. Much as with cilantro, I don’t think I could train myself into liking it if I tried for a year: when that taste kicks in, my brain utterly rejects the possibility that what I’m eating is food.

Those of you who like goat cheese — is that pungency a selling point for you? Or does it not even hit you in the same way? (Wikipedia describes goat’s cheese as “tart,” which is not remotely the taste I get off it.) I’m wondering if this is anything like the “supertaster” deal where some people can’t taste phenylthiocarbamide or propylthiouracil, while for others (I’m one) they are unspeakably bitter. I know my reaction to cheese in general is linked to the fact that I have a very strong sense of smell; your stinkier classes of cheese are Right Out for me because all I wind up tasting is the stink. But this wasn’t a strong-smelling cheese, and it still bowled me over with that unpleasant funk two seconds after I bit down. So I’m kind of curious what’s going on there, chemically speaking, and whether the experience is just qualitatively different for people who like the stuff.

8 Responses to “Goat cheese”

  1. Mom

    There are lots of ways weโ€™re not alike but Iโ€™m right there with you on goat cheese (feta) and cilantro!!

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    • swantower

      Feta =/= goat cheese, though. In Europe it’s usually made with sheep’s milk, and sometimes a little goat’s milk mixed in; in the U.S. it’s usually made with cow’s milk. Which explains why I’m actually okay with feta — though I do wonder what I would think of the sheep’s milk version.

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  2. Marie

    I think that this is more cultural than genetics and that this is an acquired taste.
    Growing up, I was exposed to cilantro a lot and I like it now – although I am not supposed to according to my genotype for OR6A2.
    Also, “tomme” sheep cheese is the best! (but I may have a cultural bias being French and all).

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    • swantower

      I’ve wondered about people with a genetic predisposition regarding cilantro who grow up with cuisines where it’s common! Me, I always felt it tasted weird, but I didn’t swing around to loathing it until I spent two and a half weeks in Costa Rica, where it was in practically every dish I ate. For two weeks I could cope; then in the last few days my palate rebelled and said NO MORE. Ever since then, I haven’t been able to stand it.

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  3. Robert

    For me, the scent of goat is a definite selling point. I tend to find most goat’s cheese disappointing because the stuff they sell in supermarkets is usually “mild” or “creamy” and as de-goatified as they can make it. I get a little excited when I see a “mature” / “strong” hard goat’s cheese. (Not too keen on the soft ones). However, the combination of “goat” and “mold” turns out to be one I do not enjoy.

    I believe I read somewhere that the thing we perceive as “flavour” is a combination of two senses – smell and taste – so there is a big dollop of synesthesia built into the way our brain computes flavour. There are other sense combinations (taste and sound, for example, is much more important to rats than flavour. For humans, it’s more of a luxury – all that talk of “texture” is largely about what sounds we hear as we chew. We often quite like a bit of crackle and crunch so long as it’s not an unexpected beetle or pomegranate seed providing the crunch. Ugh, pomegranate seeds. Like having surprise sugar-coated beetles in one’s salad. However, if we don’t hear the sound of our own chewing, we perceive food to be bland and stale – which is why airplane food is disappointing: the background noise levels are so high that the sounds of our eating are dulled. The same meal will taste better in the front of the plane, where it’s quieter, than in the back, and better still on the ground, away from the background noise.)

    One side effect of the way flavour works is that there is a delay – it takes a few seconds for the scents to travel from our mouth up into the… nose? The bit where we have smell sensors for stuff that’s in our mouth. Not sure. Will google one day. Hence all the waxing lyricals about how the flavour of a sip of wine develops (“a quick citrussy punch, quickly building into a bouquet of red fruits followed by the mellow warmth of oak-smoked ski socks, with a mature aftertaste” or whatever). And hence the way a strong goat’s cheese tends to start out tasting like cheese and end up feeling like one has been French kissed by a very forward billygoat.

    Meanwhile, “hot” is not a taste or a scent, but an activation of the pain sensors, which are also slower than our tastebuds, so that’s why taking a glug of chili sauce tends to be another experience that is spread out over time. It probably qualifies as a different thing from flavour.

    Maybe you could overlay different sensory experiences. Try a goat’s cheese dipped in very very hot chili sauce, so first you get the mellow creamy taste, then the kiss de chevre, followed by the firey scorching of the palate. I imagine a leaf of iceberg lettuce might go well with that.

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    • swantower

      Interesting — I knew about the connection between taste and smell (there are things I can eat if I literally hold my nose while doing so; maybe I should try that with goat cheese), but not about the sound element. I might experiment with that! I usually wear noise-canceling headphones while on airplanes, so maybe my food tastes better as a result.

      Your description of the billygoat made me literally laugh out loud. ๐Ÿ™‚ And yes, that would make sense as an explanation for the delay. Unfortunately, trying to mitigate the goatiness with chili sauce is a complete non-starter, as my sensitivity to capsaicin is quite high. I mean, it would probably overwhelm the goat effect . . . but at the cost of me tasting nothing but pain.

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      • Robert

        (I should probably add that the goat’s cheese dipped in chili sauce suggestion was meant to be tongue in cheek. I have a weird sense of humour. It does not always work.)

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        • swantower

          Heh, fair. ๐Ÿ™‚ On the DW mirror of this post people were saying that pairing goat cheese with honey works well and cuts the goatiness, so chili sauce wasn’t the first suggestion I’d gotten!

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