This one's for ewe: The many merits of sheep's milk cheeses

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In comparing sheep’s to goat’s milk, the distinctions are decidedly fewer. However, having stated that sheep’s milk makes the best cheese, certainly there must be some differences between the two. Sheep’s milk pairs naturally quite well with a wide variety of wines and beers. Depending on the cheese and its age of course, you can sip Sangiovese, Burgundy, Chianti, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Rose, Sherry, Amber Ale, Rioja, Prosecco, Brown Ale, Tempranillo, Riesling and an abundance of others while noshing on sheep’s milk cheeses. Sheep’s milk is also quite hardy and stands up to treatments like pasteurization, thermization, freezing and even storage in plastic wrap. It will maintain its unique characteristics through all of the above and live a lot longer than counterpart cheeses put through the same set of circumstances.

Indeed, apart from the milk type used, other factors like terroir, production, and cheese making method significantly affect the final product. However, with cool autumn days finally around the corner, it’s a perfect time to invite you in to try a plate of our beautiful sheep’s milk selections. As the days grow less oppressive, put a spring in your step with a silky, tangy and perfectly ripe Caña de Oveja (pictured) paired with quince paste or Serrano ham, or try a balsamic and juniper rubbed Pecorino Ginepro accompanied by candied black olives. The complex and creamy San Andreas made at Bellwether Farms in California is the perfect indulgence when drizzled with hazelnuts and lavender honey.

If you haven't already, start giving sheep's milk cheeses a chance -- ewe deserve it!

Top photo:; bottom photo: Dean Hurst.

"Sheep’s milk makes the best cheese," states Max McCalman in his book, Mastering Cheese, and I would have to agree. With the fall season just around the corner, it is the perfect time to talk up the rich, gamey milk that creates so many wonderful fresh and aged cheeses. During a staff-training course, a server once asked me what was so different about sheep’s milk cheeses. To her, they were always favorited by guests on the cheese board due to their deep character and multiple layers of flavors, but there is more to this than just opinion.

What strikes me as the most pertinent (and perhaps romantic) fact about sheep is that they are survivors. Sheep thrive in conditions of strong wind, temperature extremes and rocky footing that would be intolerable to cows. Sweet and crunchy Zamorano from Spain, creamy and tart Dodoni Feta from Greece, and the oily, slightly sharp Istara from the French Pyrenees are examples of sheep’s milk cheeses from such places.

Important as well is that sheep have a shorter lactation period than cows and produce less milk per day in relation to their body weight. Mother Nature makes up for the lesser quantity with milk that contains more fat and protein. Because it is thicker with a higher percentage of solids, it is closer to the final product of cheese than cow’s milk, which holds more water. If your heart skipped a beat when you read "more fat", remain calm. The fat globules in sheep’s milk are smaller, making them easier to digest and, in fact, quite good for you.

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