It’s the peak of summer, a time to sit baaa-ck, relax, and feast on the splendor of the season’s sheep milk cheese! In the seasonal cheese game (like Quidditch to the world of cheese lovers and mongers – and we’re not even huge Harry Potter fans) sheep milk cheeses are one of the most prized trophies.
Why, you ask? Well for starters, sheep have the shortest milking season of all the lactating ruminants that we tangle with here at Saxelby Cheese. Sheep give milk for just 5 to 6 months out of the year compared with 9-10 for goats and nearly a full calendar year for cows. It’s a fast and furious time on the farm – lambs are born, lambs are weaned, and then the race is on to milk the ewes and get the most cheese possible out of the season before the days grown short again and the milk supply wanes. There are a few dairies that we work with that have year-round production due to staggering their flocks’ breeding, but in general, we’re dealing with a short, but delicious season.
Sheep milk is also much higher in butterfat than goat or cows’ milk. According to Harold McGee’s ‘On Food and Cooking’ (one of our favorite books on the planet) it clocks in at around 7% butterfat, compared with 4-5% for cows and goats. Fat being a vehicle for flavor (and so many other good things) the resulting cheeses are rich, decadent, and extra delicious! There is something to be said for eating a sheep milk cheese – fresh or aged. There is a palate coating embarrassment of riches laced with flavor notes of grass, toasted nuts, and lanolin that comes from sheep milk, and that is unrivaled.
Lastly but not least, sheep milk is naturally homogenized (as is goat milk) meaning that for some reasons more known to mother nature and the science-inclined community, it is easier to digest. Don’t know what ‘homogenized’ means? Don’t worry – you certainly aren’t alone. And we’re nerds, so we like explaining anyways… Homogenization is the process by which the fat globules in milk are busted apart so that it does not separate into cream and skim. With sheep milk, the fat globules come in neat and tiny packages that don’t allow it to separate, and render it easier on the old gut. If you have issues with dairy products, try some sheep milk products on for size and see if it makes a difference!
Stop by the shop this week for a taste of the season’s finest sheep milk cheeses, or order up a Cheesemonger’s Choice Selection online with a note that says ‘Send me the sheep!’ We’ll take care of you…