Lessons in Pasteurizing and Canning Goat’s Milk at Home

Pasteurizing and canning goat's milk at home is not recommended by the USDA, but is safely achievable if you follow correct methods. The author's 'sous vide' method can help you reach success.

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by Rebecca Siegel | Flickr
Pasteurizing goat's milk at home can be achieved using a number of methods. The author prefers a sous vide method described below.

As a goat farmer, I often will be asked, “what does goat’s milk taste like?” The questioner often follow up by telling me that all the  goat cheese they’ve ever tried tastes the way goats smell. This can be true, but it turns out that the taste depends on the goat breed giving the milk. The percentage of butterfat is what dictates how sweet the milk will be.

Nigerian dwarf goats have the highest percentage of butter fat among all goats, so it’s the sweetest. This means that when we’re talking about Nigerian dwarf goat milk, the answer to “what does it taste like?” is: milk. Try a glass of Nigerian dwarf goat’s milk immediately followed by cow’s milk, and I bet that you won’t be able to tell the difference.

It’s the same with the cheeses. There’s no “goaty” taste with my Nigerian dwarf goat cheeses, only delicious feta, chevre, Colby and cheddar. I admit that I got Nigerians because they’re adorable, friendly, and smaller than I am, so I can handle them without much trouble. But I’ve been delighted to find out that the taste of the milk is wonderful and can’t say enough good things about the cheeses I can make.

Of course, you get less milk from a “Niji” than you do from bigger goat breeds, but I get about a quart per day per milker, which is more than enough to make into cheese for my family over a year. Below, I outlined several lessons I have learned over the years from pasteurizing goat’s milk at home and canning goat’s milk at home.

Pasteurizing Goat’s Milk at Home: Vat Pasteurization Method

We pasteurize our milk at Capering Pines Farm. There are various methods for doing this. I went through several methods for pasteurizing milk before I found one that worked for me.

One common procedure calls for heating milk to exactly 204 degrees Fahrenheit for exactly 0.5 seconds. Another says to raise the temperature to exactly 161 degrees F for exactly 15 seconds. Each approach is followed by rapid cooling to 39 degrees F.

I don’t have that kind of control over the heat. Instead, I use “vat pasteurization”. In this system, milk is heated to 145 degrees F and kept at that temperature for 30 minutes, then cooled rapidly. You can buy a home pasteurizer, but these can run hundreds of dollars.  This might make sense if you’re in the dairy business, but doesn’t make a lot of sense for those of us who produce only enough for family and friends.

Can You Pasteurize Milk Using a Turkey Fryer?

I found some websites that suggested using  a turkey fryer for this purpose, so I tried it. Fill the electric turkey fryer with water and set it to 145 degrees F. Place a pan of milk pre-heated to 145 degrees into the center of the water bath for 30 minutes, then cool. This does work, but I had some problems with it. For example, the fryer isn’t good about keeping a precise temperature, so I was concerned about not killing off all the germs.

Second, I had a few occasions where the pan I used for milk wasn’t deep enough, so I got water in the milk from the water bath. Nevertheless, I used this method for several years because it did the job.

Pasteurizing Goat’s Milk Using a Sous Vide Machine

Now I have a method that is more exact: I use a kitchen gadget called a “sous vide”. It holds the water in a pan at a precise temperature with little variation.

Quart bottles of fresh milk being pasteurized

Out of curiosity, I put a thermometer in the water to check that the machine was doing what it said it did, and in fact it did keep the temperature steady.

Searching online, you’ll find prices in the hundreds of dollars for sous vide devices. Mine cost $35 and I’ve been using it for about 5 years. I checked: You can still get a very usable sous vide machine for this price. It just isn’t Bluetooth-enabled and it doesn’t set the table for you.

Fill a container with water and let sous vide machine warm it to 145 degrees F. At the same time, heat milk to the same temperature. Then place jars of warmed milk into the water bath for 30 minutes, and the sous vide holds the temperature steady. After 30 minutes, place containers of milk into a sink filled with cold water and ice for rapid cooling to below 40 degrees F before refrigerating or processing into cheese.

Canning Goat’s Milk at Home

First let me say the USDA absolutely does not recommend canning milk, so I won’t either. But I will tell you how I do it when I choose to process milk this way.

Milk is very non-acidic. This means that, like green beans, asparagus, and other non-acidic foods, it must be pressure canned to be safe. So, if you don’t have a pressure cooker, you cannot be canning milk at home.

Why would I want to can milk? I make a lot of cheese; enough to last a year. I also make yogurt and ice cream. Because I don’t milk my goats year-round, I didn’t have milk for things like smoothies, gravy, puddings, or for my coffee. This is why I can milk every year.  It stays fresh on the shelf in a pressure-sealed can until I need it. It doesn’t take up room in the fridge or freezer, and I can process enough to last until next milking season.

Canned milk is not something that I drink by itself.  The canning process gives it a caramelized flavor, which I don’t care for. But in gravies and puddings, I don’t notice this at all.

Lessons Learned from Canning Goat’s Milk at Home

At first, I tried canning milk that had been refrigerated for a few days. However, the milk curdled, and large, ugly clumps appeared in the bottles.

I next tried extending the canning time. I get worried about impurities when I’m pressure canning and sometimes extend the time in the canner. So the first time I canned milk, I decided to leave the jars in at 15 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes. I lost the entire batch, because it came out clotted, and it smelled and looked funny.

Now I, get the pressure to 15 pounds. Then stop! And turn the canner off.

How to Can Milk at Home

As noted above, you must have a pressure canner or you shouldn’t even consider canning milk. A water-bath cannot ensure that you’ve killed off all the bacteria that could be living in the milk.

Follow these steps for success canning goat’s milk at home (or other types of milk):

  1. Place jars, lids and rings in boiling water and set aside. I’m a big fan of reusable lids, but I use only metal ones for canning milk.  Reusables may be okay, but I don’t take chances.
  2. Use milk straight from the goat. Refrigerating milk changes the acidity and causes the milk to curdle when canned.
  3. Fill jars to within 1/4 inch of the top, wipe rim, place the lid and ring on and tighten.
  4. Place jars in canner and screw on the lid. Set pressure to 15 pounds and turn on heat.
  5. AS SOON AS pressure hits 15 pounds, turn off heat and let canner depressurize completely.
  6. Remove jars from canner and let sit for 1 hour. Check lids. Contents of jars that didn’t seal should be refrigerated and used within the next 2 – 3 days.
  7. Store jars in a cool, dark place and use by next milking season.

Dr. Sylvia Dennison is Associate Professor of Psychiatry at three major universities, where she has taught many student doctors and resident physicians about the diagnosis and treatment of co-occurring mental health and substance abuse issues. In addition, The author of a number of papers, book chapters, and two books on mental health, Dr. Dennison resides on a small Wisconsin hobby farm home to chickens, guinea fowl, goats and a dog. Connect with her at Notes from a Psychiatrist’s Office.

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