Goat milk ice cream gaining fans
PETALUMA, Calif. – Got goat’s milk? Northern California ice cream maker Laura Howard does and she’s using it to turn out a product that’s anything but plain vanilla.
Howard’s goat-milk frozen treats are winning shelf space in upscale grocery freezers across the country. And here’s the kicker: They don’t taste of goat.
“Some people see goats’ milk ice cream and they sort of wrinkle their nose,” says Howard, who traded Hollywood for the country charms of Petaluma to start her Laloo’s Goat Milk Ice Cream Co. “After they try it, it’s a different story.”
In fact, Laloo’s tastes like premium ice cream ” it’s a myth that goat milk has to carry the smoky tang that conjures up visions of Heidi in grandpa’s hut. Milk flavor is mostly the result of what the goats eat and how they’re managed.
Goat milk has been drunk all over the world for centuries. But it’s only relatively recently, with the success of high-end goat cheeses, that Americans have taken an interest in the other white milk.
These days, goat’s gone gourmet with products including milk, yogurt and even soap becoming more widely available.
“There has been a huge increase in demand,” said Scott Bice, farm manager for his family’s Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery in Sebastopol.
Howard’s goat milk journey began in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, when, like a lot of people, she began questioning her life choices.
A successful advertising executive and film producer in Hollywood who already had a yoga practice, she began studying yoga more intently, visited India, and came up with the realization that “I wasn’t going to have any answers until I learned how to treat my body better and treat my mind better.”
A change of diet followed, with goat’s milk replacing cow’s milk.
One problem: She had a three-pints-a-week ice cream habit.
But then she got to looking at her grandmother’s old-fashioned ice cream maker sitting in a corner of her Los Angeles kitchen and inspiration struck.
“I thought, ‘You know? What if I made ice cream with this,'” she said.
She did. It was good. And not too much later she decided to “just go for it” and try turning her hobby into a commercial venture.
Scouting out a location was straightforward. “I literally would look for goats in the field and go knock on the door,” she said. She settled on Petaluma, a dairy town nestled in the rolling hills about 45 miles north of San Francisco.
Laloo’s (Howard’s childhood nickname, pronounced Lay-looz) began in 2004, with Howard selling at farmers’ markets.
Soon, she was buying a little freezer truck on Ebay and delivering her goods farther afield.
Laloo’s ” which comes in flavors ranging from Vanilla Snowflake to Chocolate Cabernet, Sonoma County is wine country, after all ” started winning taste awards. Then it was picked up by Whole Foods Markets after the chain’s national grocery buyer Perry Abbenante tried a sample.
Abbenante wasn’t expecting too much because of the price; at about $6.99 a pint, Laloo’s costs quite a bit more than other premium products. (Howard says the price is unavoidable with a handmade product made in small quantities relying on a key ingredient that also is produced in relatively small quantities.)
But Laloo’s did better than expected and has since expanded to most Whole Foods Markets around the country as well as some other upscale grocers ” “pretty good for a small company selling goat milk ice cream,” said Abbenante. “It’s unique and it’s something that’s growing.”
Howard gets her milk from a Petaluma farm and makes batches once a week, slow-cooking the milk to mellow out the flavor and arrive at the right level of creaminess.
She sold about 20,000 pints last year, about double the year before and is on track to double again this year. Howard is now looking into setting up satellite operations in other parts of the country.
“We’ve had kind of a runaway train on our hands,” she said.
Part of goat milk’s popularity is that some people find it easier to digest, although there hasn’t been a lot of academic research in that area.
Goat and cow’s milk have similar compositions. But goat’s milk generally contains less lactose, although the difference isn’t huge, said David P. Brown, senior extension associate at Cornell University’s Department of Food Science. Both milks have about the same fat content, but the fat globules in goat’s milk are different, which may affect digestion, he said.
Laloo’s is low fat, so much so it technically is “reduced-fat ice cream,” being below the 10 percent milk fat that defines “ice cream” by government standards.
To Howard, the most important thing about her product is the taste.
“It wouldn’t probably find a wide audience if it didn’t taste really good,” she said.