Milking Goats

It’s been a while since I’ve milked a goat — twenty years (at least) but I’m very proud to report that I have not forgotten how.

Goats are one of the principle ingredients in the vast Norwegian landscape — like salt and pepper sprinkled across the high granite mountains and shiny green valleys. No matter where I roam in western Norway, I’m sure to find a goat or two along the way. In tiny Undredal, a storybook village at the end of a great valley at the edge of a great fjord, the goats outnumber people five to one.

“When the kids are all away at school, there’s about 80 of us here in this town,” reports Anna Karine Marstein, a co-owner and operator of  Undredal Dairy. As for the goats? Anna’s dairy has 224 milking ewes right now, and the town’s total is closer to 500.

All 224 goats must be milked twice a day, a time-intensive task managed by the farmhand from Spain who beckons “his ladies” from the field and into the barn.

Goats are milked twice a day at Undredal Dairy (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

“Ladies, ladies! Come on ladies!” he shouts, and the goats obey, swarming the feed bay where they are attached to the milking machine. The warm and frothy milk is pumped into large stainless steel tanks from which it is turned into geitost (yayt-ost) “goat cheese”, also known as brunost or “brown cheese”.

One unique quality of brown geitost is that all of the milk is used, including the whey and casein. After the cheese is formed, it is boiled for as long as a day, a process that caramelizes the natural milk sugars and gives the cheese its signature sweet flavor, as well as its trademark brown color.

“We are part of the Norwegian soul,” says Anna Karine, and she is grateful that her family can uphold such an important tradition as geitost. The Vikings used to carry (and milk) goats on their ships, and boating through any fjord, one can gaze up at the abandoned goat farms of yesteryear, nestled on some impossible perch a thousand feet up.

Goats are a way of life in Norway and have been since Norway began. Since I’ve arrived, I’ve been served creamy brown geitost for breakfast nearly every day. It’s a unique taste that I will always associate with this country, with the beautiful goats that roam hill and vale, and with the fond memory of the last time I milked goats.

Undredal Dairy near Flåm, Norway (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Comments

  1. Norwegian translator
    May 31, 2012, 3:55 am

    Norway is one of the most beautiful countries you can imagine. Mountains and fjords and wonderful welcoming people.
    You just have to be a little patient with the weather as it can be a bit challenging..

  2. Marianne Rafter
    New York
    May 31, 2012, 12:15 pm

    Thank you for posting such a wonderful story about my home country and Undredal. I have visited this tiny place nestled in a fjord and every time I get in awe. Such a unique place.
    Marianne

  3. ashley
    May 31, 2012, 10:48 pm

    This is great and I am secretly jealous! I’ve always wanted to milk a goat/ or cow but doing so in Norway would be the icing on the cake.

  4. Mei Li Moore
    Texas
    June 4, 2012, 5:48 am

    I have to admit that looked really fun! Thank you for bringing a pure, traditional task so close to the suburbian homemaker. It was like I stepped into a picturesque storybook and licked some milk from my fingers.

  5. Josu
    Undredal
    June 5, 2012, 4:41 am

    Thanks Andrew for your visit,hope you enjoyed it!!
    Yes Im the spanish one that shouts “Ladies,ladies,come on Ladies……”
    Hope to see you again somewhere in this world

  6. […] Milk a goat! […]

  7. Linn-Janette Underdal Skarsbo
    Undredal/Liverpool
    June 13, 2012, 4:51 pm

    I love this list, great way to experience my lovely hometown and this great country 🙂

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    Texas
    June 27, 2012, 1:31 pm

    I love those beardy-goats! Such expressive faces!

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