As a prelude to this cheese board, we decided to share a few Sheep Milk factoids with you in a mini Sheep 101.
Sheep milk accounts for less than 2% of all commercial milk produced in the world.
The dairy sheep industry is concentrated in Europe and countries near the Mediterranean Sea. Although, still considered in its infancy, the dairy sheep industry is making great strides here in the US.
Sheep milk is highly nutritious; richer in vitamins A, B and E, calcium, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium than cow milk. Sheep milk has a higher concentration of short- and medium-short chain fatty acids which have positive health benefits. Short-chain fatty acids have little effect on cholesterol levels in humans. They also make it easier for humans to digest the milk.
Research shows that sheep milk has more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than any other mammal milk, including human milk. CLA is a cancer-fighting, fat-reducing fat. Also, the fat globules in sheep milk are smaller than those found in cow milk; again making sheep milk easier to digest.
Sheep milk has more solids than goat or cow milk making it ideal for making cheese. More sheep milk cheese can be produced from a gallon of sheep milk than either goat milk or cow milk. For example, a gallon of sheep milk can produce between 18 and 25% cheese while a gallon of goat or cow milk will produce 9-10% cheese.
Sheep milk contains about 7 to 8% butter fat compared to 3% in cow and 4% in goat milk.
All of these factors combined with the fact that sheep produce less milk than goat or cows are why sheep milk cheese is usually the highest cost per pound cheese found in your favorite specialty cheese shop.
Now for our sheep cheese board:
Fromager d’Affinois de Brebis
We decided to begin with Fromage d’Affinois de Brebis. Made by the same producer of one of the most popular bloomy rinds sold in the US, Fromager d’Affinois, the cheesemaker removes some of the water from the milk using a process called “Ultra-filtration” creating a cheese with the texture of a triple cream without the added butterfat… don’t be fooled, this cheese, as is, has plenty of butterfat to satisfy that creamy-craving that only members of the Brie family can satisfy… Baby, I got me a “Brie Jones”…
Fromager d’Affinois de Brebis is mild and rich with the rind adding a savory complexity to the enjoyment of this cheese. A great start to our sheep cheese board.
Bit of trivia: Brebis in French means “Ewe” and Fromager Brebis translates as “Sheep’s Cheese”.
This raw sheep milk cheese is made at Ram Hall Dairy near Coventry, England and comes to the US via Neal’s Yard. Because it is made with raw milk, the taste varies throughout the year; early summer offerings have hints of strawberry and as we approach winter, the cheese has more of the lanolin taste that is more common in sheep milk cheese. The Lady had the pleasure of trying this in early summer while attending Murray’s Cheese Boot Camp in NYC and tasted the flora that the sheep enjoyed grazing in the fields of the Fletcher’s Farm. Pair this cheese with a Pinot Noir and watch your guests swoon… it’s exactly what The Man did…
Ossau Iraty Vielle
Another sheep milk cheese that The Lady tasted at Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village, this is raw milk and more-aged version of the Ossau Iraty she sold at the Cheese Kiosk in the Hawthorne Fred Meyer. This cheese from the French side of the Pyrenees, making it less militant than it Spanish cousin…, this cheese has the sweetness of a Gruyere with a nuttiness that develops into a slight acidity and end with a grassiness that you won’t find in the pasteurized version of this cheese. While you might be tempted to pair this cheese, I suggest you serve it naked; let your guests enjoy this cheese the way the cheesemaker meant it to be savored.
Pecorino Oro Antico Riserva
From the Tuscan region of Italy, this cheese is rubbed with olive oil during its six month aging which adds tang to the finish product. Although pasteurized, a herby overtone accompanies the delicate taste of this cheese. The aging also delivers a grainy testure so you might want to let this sit out a little longer before serving. Remove the red wax before serving as well… unless you like eating red wax… I don’t
Trivia: Pecorino in Italian means “Ewe”… I see a pattern developing here…
Old Chatham’s Ewe’s Blue
Made in the Roquefort style, Ewe’s Blue comes from New York’s Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, the largest sheep farm in the US, boasting a herd of more than 1000 East Friesian crossbred sheep.
In order to produce a blue at their farm, Tom and Nancy had to build a separate facility and then it took several more years to perfect their recipe. Around 2006, more than 10 years after starting their sheep dairy, the Clarks introduced Ewe’s Blue.
This cheese has lots of blueiness and delivers a sweet, full flavored cheese with just enough saltiness to make The Man beg for more than his fair share… sheesh… why am I not surprised… Asti Moscato is a perfect pairing for this cheese with a little honey drizzled on the cheese as well…
Up next will be our own special Pacific Northwest Cheese Board…
Tips for a perfect cheese board:
Serve your cheeses at room temperature; that’s when they taste the best as nature intended.
Plan on about 1-2 ounces of each cheese per guest; if you present 3 cheeses than go for the higher amount per guests; if you serve 5 cheeses, then 1 ounce per cheese/per guest should be perfect.
And remember the perfect cheese board should feature “Something old; Something new; something stinky and something blue”…