The Cape Verde goat is a landrace. They are small in size, leggy and possessing a short-haired coat of various colors including white, red, all black or piebald. It is undoubtedly a relative of the Sahel goat, imported by the Portuguese around two hundred years ago. It was cross-bred with other races, most likely with goats from the Canary Islands. These animals are of vital importance for the farmers of the Planalto Norte region of the Island of Santo Antao, a rugged, vertical, volcanic landscape which is often very dry and with very few pastures. Rain is relatively infrequent. The goats are the only source of sustenance for the people that inhabit the planalto. These folks survive by making cheese from the small amount of milk produced by the goats and sold in the markets of Porto Novo and other island markets.
The Slow Food Presidium describes this landrace, the cheese made from their milk and indigenous people in the following manner.
“The methods used to raise animals and make cheese in the Planalto Norte are examples of an impressive capacity to adapt to the difficult environmental conditions. The animals, left to graze freely for the whole day, spontaneously gather in the late morning to drink at the milking areas, where the kids are kept in drystone shelters. After milking, the goats stay with the kids for two or three hours and then return to graze freely until the next day. The animals are milked once a day, and cheesemaking starts immediately afterwards, in tiny traditional stone huts with straw roofs and matting known as case de queijo. Each step in the process is carried out with extreme care, keeping water consumption to a minimum. Water is valuable here and, except for short periods, has to be brought in by tanker or donkey. Processing is carried out without using additional sources of heat. Kid’s rennet produced by the herders is added to the raw milk. After about an hour and a half or two hours the curd is broken down to the size of corn kernels, left to settle and the whey is removed. The paste is then shaped and pressed by hand into metal molds and left to drain. The final product is a rennet-coagulated pure goat’s milk cheese, semi-hard and cylindrical in shape (10 to 15 centimeters in diameter) with a flat top and bottom and low and slightly convex sides (3 to 4 centimeters high). The paste is compact and uniform, without eyes, and ivory-white in color. It has a subtle milky aroma with herbaceous notes, while on the palate it is sweet with a slightly tangy flavor and a soft, somewhat elastic texture.”
A great travel blog that describes culinary uses for this cheese and the coastal open markets where it can be purchased is https://www.insidewestafrica.com/2016/09/12/our-love-for-cape-verdean-goat-cheese-santo-antao-part-1/
In this blog the author admits to frequent enjoyment of goat cheeses from all of the islands in this archipelago but seems particularly smitten with the cheese and the goats of Santo Antao. She states that eating the cheese the traditional way with papaya jam (dulce de papaya) and coffee is completely awesome. And despite the cheese being produced in a traditional manner that goes back centuries and which would make any American health inspector lose their minds immediately, she lived to report on this gourmet adventure.
Unless you are physically on the islands, acquiring this specific cheese may be a little difficult. Making Dulce de Papaya is not, however, and can be made at home.
- Peel the papaya, remove the seeds and cut the flesh either into strips.
- Combine the water and sugar in a large pot. Heat until the sugar has dissolved then add the papaya pieces along with the cinnamon stick, cloves and lemon zest. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat without stirring until the sugar becomes a thick syrup (about 20 minutes boiling).
- At this point take the pan off the heat and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
While you enjoy this at home, imagine how nice it would be to nosh on this dish seaside in one of the charming Cape Verde ports such as Porto Novo on Santo Antao. Dream about flying to capital city Praia (a mere$1900 round trip from New York) and then island hopping at your leisure. Sure, you can always book a tour of 3-4 islands out of the 10 available for a cool $2,000, or you can do your own thing more cheaply and with greater flexibility. That’s also the best way to avoid the more touristy locations, if a more authentic experience of this absolutely fascinating culture and landscape is desired. Either way you go, guided tour or self directed, be sure to sample goat cheeses on all of the islands, along with the local brews, fruits and baked goods.
Coma Hearty! (Eat Hearty)