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Getting One’s Goat – A Cheesy Conundrum – Goat vs Goats vs Goat’s vs Goats’ Cheese

Getting One’s Goat – A Cheesy Conundrum

Matthew Steeples explores the conundrum of how to describe cheese made from goat’s milk and shares the eclectic thoughts of everyone from Susie Dent to Alan Rusbridger, Christine Hamilton, Jay Rayner, Matthew Jukes, Mic Wright, Nigella Lawson, Matthew Wright, Tom Parker Bowles and Samantha Markle on goat cheese

At the River Café in Hammersmith, the menu references serving Rabiola Rochetta cheese from Piemonte that is made with “goat’s milk” to get around a conundrum that has “got the goat” of many over the years.


London’s most traditional establishments, amongst them The Ritz and Wiltons, avoid the pasturised matter completely. They respectively just list “artisan cheeses” and “farmhouse cheeses” on their menus, whilst the self-declared “old fashioned restaurateur” James Chiavarini, proprietor of one of J. K. Rowling’s favourite haunts in Kensington, Il Portico, told me: “I haven’t the faintest idea to be honest!” when I enquired as to his thoughts on a cheese that is rather like Marmite in being both loved and loathed.


That matter? The debate over whether a restaurant or grocery store should list cheese made from goat’s milk should as “goat cheese” or whether it should be “goat’s cheese” or “goats cheese” or “goats’ cheese” even. Also described by the French as “chèvre,” one respondent to my questioning argued that it should, in fact – like “soured” rather than “sour” cream – be written-up as “goated.”


Detested by multiple respondents to my inquistive questioning including charity fundraising supremo Lorraine Burns, LBC Weekend Breakfast presenter Matthew Wright and TalkTV Crime Suspect host Peter Bleksley, this contentious cheese made with milk supplied by goats attracted the attention of Channel 4’s Countdown’s ‘Dictionary Corner’ guru Susie Dent. Her synopsis? “Oxford Dictionaries give both goat cheese and goat’s cheese. I usually go for the latter.”


Though other views (and plenty of brands with differing approaches) follow below, ‘La Dent’ – as The Observer’s restaurant critic Jay Rayner referenced this “God in these matters” – will now, excuse the pun, be the “goat-to” Queen of “goat cheese.” This cheesy conundrum can now finally be put out to pasture allowing grammar pedants to return to waging war on Waterstones (which should surely have always remained Waterstone’s).


In Broadstairs, lovers of the product made with goat’s milk can enjoy a bring-and-join-in ‘Cheeseboard Tuesday’ gathering weekly every Tuesday from 2pm until 5pm hosted by the delightfully delectable Sam Hawkins at The Magnet, 37 Albion Street, Broadstairs, Kent, CT10 ENE. Other cheese varieties, condiments and bread will be available.


Editor’s note – Unlike as is the case in many publications, this article was NOT sponsored or supported by a third-party. Follow Matthew Steeples on Twitter at @M_Steeples and watch his current nightly show on YouTube at 8.30pm GMT daily.


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The legendary lexicographer Susie Dent – “That woman in Dictionary Corner” – was first to respond to my query about the GOAT/GOATS/GOAT’S/GOATS’ conundrum. The author of ‘Words From The Heart’ remarked: “Oxford Dictionaries give both goat cheese and goat’s cheese! I usually go for the latter.”
Notable food critic for ‘The Observer’ and famous face on the telly box Jay Rayner responded to the same question via email. He observed: “I won’t deny: it’s one I hesitate over. So much so that I couldn’t immediately tell you what I put in the copy I file. So I had a look at a few of the reviews in which I’ve mentioned it and it’s clear our house style is ‘goat’s cheese’. Just as it would be ‘cow’s milk’. That said I’ve had a Quick Look online and my conclusion is that, as with so much in language, there is no definitive answer. You could make a plausible argument for three of the four. I’m just not sure you could argue for ‘goats cheese’ without any possessive. That said La Dent is god in these matters and I’ll happily defer to her.”
Fellow food critic Tom Parker Bowles, also on Twitter, argued: “I’d prefer goat’s cheese. As it is the cheese of a goat. Although obviously the end product is the result of many goats’ milk. So could be either. Goats cheese, on the other hand, is plain wrong.”
The Cambridge Dictionary, giving examples of usage, declared the noun “goat cheese (also goat’s cheese)” to mean “cheese made from goat’s milk, usually soft and white.” Elsewhere, the Milking Goat Association share of goats in Britain: “The UK dairy goat industry is made up of 40-45 thousand goats producing just less than 34 million litres of milk commercially. This compares to a UK dairy herd of 1.9 million cows producing just less than 15 billion litres of cows’ milk (2014/5). Though significant, goat dairy remains a specialist market with goat milk representing less than 0.2% of the volume of cows’ milk produced in the UK. Goat cheese (UK and imported) is now in the top 10 cheeses consumed in the UK. Goats’ milk produced in the UK is primarily sold as butter, cheese and yogurt.” Clearly both luminaries in their respective fields favour the use of GOAT in regard to the cheese produced using goat’s milk.
Author and screenwriter Samantha Markle takes the view that it is GOAT’S CHEESE and argued: “Goat’s milk. I’ve never heard anyone say ‘I don’t drink cow milk.’ I have only heard ‘cow’s milk’ (possessive). It logically follows that since cheese is made from milk, we would say goat’s milk/goat’s cheese… I think.”
Former editor of ‘The Guardian’ turned editor of ‘Prospect’ Alan Rusbridger hesitatingly observed: “I’ve always thought goats’ cheese. But I may be wrong.”
Equally, legendary British battleaxe and media personality Christine Hamilton shared: “I have no idea, but let’s go for goat’s cheese or goats’ cheese – it must be one of those!”
Nigella Lawson stated: “I generally go for goat’s cheese, though I feel goat cheese is also ok.”
Taking an entirely different view was Charlie Baker of ‘The Fence’ magazine. He opted for GOATS’ over all the other options.
Doyenne in raising funds for cancer charities Lorraine Burns from Broadstairs, Kent responded and made clear that she’d solved the matter for once and for all: “What a contentious little question indeed. However, I believe that goat’s cheese is correct – the cheese produced using the milk of goats and I won’t stand for any other usage. Please inform all other recipients of the email, there is no need to respond, the issue is resolved.”
Writer, media critic and ‘Conquest of the Useless’ newsletter creator Mic Wright was his usually to the point self. He stated: “It’s goat’s cheese or goat cheese. Never goats cheese. And chèvre if you’re fancy or French.”
Colin Steeples asked: “Is it not about how many goats produced the milk for the cheese but what kind of animal produced it? Goat’s cheese for me.”
Ex Scotland Yard detective turned TalkTV ‘Crime Suspect’ host and author Peter Bleksley didn’t have a view on the apostrophe, but he did have a clear view on the cheese: “It’s rank. You’re welcome.”
Former 7/7 counter-terror Scotland Yard detective turned investigator and author of ‘Finding Suzy’ David Videcette shared: “It’s not goat’s cheese when it’s on my plate, moreover by the time it has arrived in my plate it’s more likely to be goats cheese. But when I order it’s goat cheese, obviously.” Some may find that analysis a little cryptic.
Restaurateur James Chiavarini – owner of the much loved Il Portico on Kensington High Street and the adjoining more recently opened La Palombe –was more honest than most. He declared: “I haven’t the faintest idea to be honest!”
The Grammar Monster website favours “goat’s” over other options.
Screenwriter turned ‘Byline Times’ founder and executive editor Peter Jukes just believes the cheese to be “great… however you spell it.”
Respected wine writer Matthew Jukes went against the grain of the dictionaries and favours GOATS’ cheese.
Restaurateur and bon viveur Rex Leyland – former proprietor of Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea institution Foxtrot Oscar – was more interested in the smell of the cheese. He suggested “cheese from goats” as an alternative description.
Joining those believing the dairy product to be “disgusting” was LBC radio host Matthew Wright. He shared: “Anything that smells like the cloven-hoofed beasties turns my stomach.”

Nine notably different examples of labelling on packaging of cheese made from goat’s milk… Illustration of utterly no consistency

Tesco opt for GOATS’ cheese and were featured in an August 2013 article in ‘The Guardian’ by David Marsh. Included in their ‘Mind Your Language’ section and titled: “If you can’t use an apostrophe, you don’t know your shit,” Marsh said of the retailing giant: “Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket, is in a class of its own when it comes to apostrophe abuse. You’d think that someone among its half a million employees would know better than to put up signs saying ‘Kids toys.’ It gets worse in the clothing department: a simple ‘Kids’ seems fair enough, but the signs nearby are a scarcely credible ‘Mens’ and ‘Womens.’ The meaning may be clear but the sloppiness demonstrated by this insult to the intelligence of its customers makes you wonder what else the company gets wrong. Sell-by dates? Prices? I wonder how far I’d get with a job application to Tesco if I wrote something like this: ‘Id really like a job at Tescos, I think its a great company, it sell’s everything from kids toys to Mens. p.s I also like the BOGOF’s.’”
Waitrose & Partners opt instead for GOAT’S and market their “British” offering as “mild, creamy and fresh tasting.”
Marks & Spencer also opt for GOAT’S and currently sell an “English soft” that is “mild and creamy” that is “crafted at the Lubborn Creamery, Somerset.”
Sainsbury’s, however, follow Tesco and go for GOATS’ also with the “sweet and mild” cheese made in Somerset.
Another product offered online, “Capricorn” has no apostrophe at all. It is simply GOATS cheese.
A firm named Olympus simply opt for GOAT as labelling on the packaging of their “traditional” offering.
On Twitter, @AdzWhitcombe shared an image with me of a goat with a pipe on the packaging of a “smoked goat cheese” called “The Smokin’ Goat.” He argued: “It would be bad for pregnant women to eat this particular cheese judging by the cover image.”
Another brand, Melis, to promote its “white soft cheese in brine” that is supposedly “a wonderful cheese with a rich taste and mild goat’s [note the apostrophe] aroma” as GOATS MILK CHEESE. Confusion clearly reigns at this particular firm when it comes to apostrophes.
Wildly Delicious opt for a more artisan look and follow the Oxford and Cambridge Dictionaries suggestion with plain old GOAT. They do also reference their cheese as “chèvre” however and thus keep both the Brits and French satisfied.

The varied thoughts of the Twitterati on this contentiously cheesy topic….

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