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Taste-Off: The best fresh goat cheese — and the ones to avoid

Taste-Off: The best fresh goat cheese — and the ones to avoid

At first bite, soft goat cheese tastes pungent, earthy and perhaps a bit peculiar to those used to eating cream cheese made with cow’s milk. Goat cheese is tart and sassy and packed with unexpected funky flavors.

But those adventurous enough to go for a second and third bite often fall hard for the snowy white cheese as its tangy, bright flavors are a genius counterpoint to everything from beets to blueberries. Creamy goat cheese can be used to top pizza or salad, smeared on a bagel, stirred into pasta or simply served with crackers as an instant appetizer.

In terms of nutrition, goat cheese is naturally higher in vitamins and minerals and lower in calories and cholesterol than cheese made with cow’s milk. Even better, goat’s milk contains a unique, bold-flavored, fatty acid that not only transforms the flavor of the milk but also lowers the lactose content and promotes good digestion.

Fresh goat cheese comes in a handful of flavors, including versions infused with honey, pepper or herbs. For this taste test, we stockpiled plain only. In general, goat cheeses have nearly the same nutrition content and appearance — it’s white and most often sold in log form — but the flavor differences are vast between brands, primarily due to the milk source. European goat cheese may dominate the global market, but most of the brands we found in local stores come primarily from California, Northern states and Canada.

Great goat cheese is rich, creamy and pleasantly pungent, with a mere touch of bitterness. As it warms in the mouth, it reveals layers of flavor that range from cheesy to nutty to buttery. Bad goat cheese delivers such a sharp punch of bitter, sour flavors, it’s tough to swallow.

Here’s the scoop on the bold goat cheeses that will add personality to any pairing, and the sad, bitter blobs that will turn goat cheese doubters into haters. Nutrition info refers to 1 ounce of cheese.

Laura Chenel Original Goat

The fresh milk note in this nutty, complex cheese makes for a bright bite worthy of any cracker or bagel. 70 calories, 5 g fat, 100 mg sodium, 4 g protein. $9.99 for 8 ounces at Safeway. (4 stars)

Cypress Grove Ms. Natural Goat Cheese

This entirely delicious cheese is buttery and rich, with multiple flavor notes that make it a stellar example of the category. 80 calories, 6 g fat, 125 mg sodium, 5 g protein. $6.79 for 4 ounces on sale at Whole Foods. (4 stars)

Silver Goat Log

Mild buttermilklike flavor and an exaggerated creamy note make this cheese a bargain-priced win. 90 calories, 7 g fat, 105 mg sodium, 5 g protein. $4.49 for 8.5 ounces at Trader Joe’s. (3½ stars)

365 Goat Cheese Log

A nutty punch and mouthwatering cheese notes make this a pleasant, if fairly mild choice. 80 calories, 6 g fat, 80 mg sodium, 5 g protein. $9.49 for 10 ounces at Whole Foods. (3 stars)

Kirkland Signature Goat Cheese

Made with goat milk from Canada, this cheese is notably creamy, with clean, fresh flavor. 80 calories, 6 g fat, 100 mg sodium, 5 g protein. $7.69 for two 10.5 ounce logs at Costco. (2½ stars)

Vermont Creamery Goat Cheese

Mild tanginess and velvety texture make this a fair choice for dips and spreads, but it lacks personality. 80 calories, 6 g fat, 60 mg sodium, 5 g protein. $5.99 for 4 ounces at Whole Foods. (2½ stars)

Primo Taglio Goat Cheese

Those who appreciate the grassy note in fresh milk may enjoy this fairly sour, but interesting cheese. Use this sour cheese sparingly — or combine it with cream cheese to smooth the ragged flavor notes. 80 calories, 6 g fat, 80 mg sodium, 5 g protein. $5.99 for 4 ounces at Safeway. (2 stars)

Roth Chevre

This snow-white cheese from Wisconsin has nutty flavor, but it’s so tart, it tastes like yogurt. 70 calories, 5 g fat, 75 mg sodium, 4 g protein. $2.49 for 4 ounces at Grocery Outlet. (2 stars)

Trader Joe’s Chevre

If flavor was the only criterion, this super tangy cheese would score higher, but it’s decidedly grainy. 80 calories, 6 g fat, 80 mg sodium, 5 g protein. $2.99 for 5 ounces. (1½ stars)

Frederick’s Goat Cheese

The funk factor of this cheese is huge, but it has a luscious, creamy texture. Reserve this to use in cooked dishes with lots of big flavors. 70 calories, 6 g fat, 120 mg sodium, 5 g protein. $5.99 for 10.5 ounces at Grocery Outlet. (1½ stars)

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Chavrie Original Goat Cheese

This extra-creamy, light cheese has the texture of whipped cream and tastes more like processed cream cheese than goat cheese. 47 calories, 4 g fat, 117 mg sodium, 3 g protein. $6.99 for 5.3 ounces at Safeway. (1 star)

Montchevre Goat Cheese

An unappetizing hit of sourness coupled with an upleasant, gritty texture make this a very poor choice. 80 calories, 6 g fat, 80 mg sodium, 5 g protein. $10.99 for 8 ounces at Raley’s. (½ a star)

O Organics Soft Goat Cheese

Yikes. This crazy sour cheese is unbearably bitter. 80 calories, 6 g fat, 80 mg sodium, 4 g protein. $6.99 for 4 ounces at Safeway. (No stars)

Reviews are based on product samples purchased by this newspaper or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thym at timespickyeater@gmail.com. Read more Taste-off columns at www.mercurynews.com/tag/taste-off.

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