Is Soft Jazz the Secret to Great Goat Cheese?
One famous California creamery plays it for the goats while they're being milked.
Cypress Grove is known for Humboldt Fog, a soft-ripened goat cheese. But while its floral notes and clean citrus finish may have made it famous, this goat cheese—and the more than a dozen others produced at the California creamery—might owe some of their distinctive flavors to soft jazz music. Yes, jazz.
Each day, the creamery's staff milks its 900 goats to the sounds of soft jazz, tunes that soothe the animals and block out any outside noises—such as construction on the grounds—as they stand in their parlor stanchions twice a day. The consistent music creates a calming routine for the goats, explains Ryan Andrus, the creamery's dairy director, which reduces their stress and helps yield better milk. (As Andrus explains, "stress can lead to feed intake drops, decreased production, illness, and low immunity," none ideal conditions for trying to produce award-winning cheeses.)
Andrus borrowed the idea from a Midwestern farm that played classical music to its pigs for their entire lives—until they were brought to slaughter, of course. The farm claimed the music kept the pigs calm and produced better-tasting pork, so Andrus adapted the idea for Cypress Grove's daily needs.
However, classical music didn't suit the goats. The tunes "had far too many swings in tempo and energy," Andrus says, which only served to agitate the animals.
But Andrus also found he couldn't play jazz music with too many horns, "as they have an abrupt, squawky sound," he explains. "That is why we can't play things like Thelonius Monk or some of the more avant-garde, creative jazz music. It has to be light, mellow, and low on intensity."
So Andrus moved to George Winston piano music, a favorite of his and of the goats, but an irritant to his staff, who complained the repetition over the years was driving them crazy. "I was forced to branch out," Andrus laughs.
Now, the goats listen to a variety of jazz artists, music so soothing it couldn't upset anyone. "It doesn't have to be the same music every day, played in the same order," says Andrus. "It just has to 'feel' the same. It's an all-around ambiance thing. As long as the feeling in the parlor is consistent, they trust that everything will be alright."
Andrus says he knows the goats like the music because they don't show signs that they dislike it. "We can tell they like it because they maintain a calm and mellow mood, energy, and there is a docility about the entire herd," he describes, "and they do not make gestures, motions, behaviors, that indicate concern or stress."
So next time you eat Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog or Midnight Moon, may we suggest you give a nod to the goats who helped produce it by turning on jazz tunes?