SHEEP MILK CHEESE

Introduction to Sheep Cheese 

“Behind every cheese there is a pasture of a different green under a different sky: meadows caked with salt that the tides of Normandy deposit every evening; meadows scented with aromas in the windy sunlight of Provence…” - Italo Calvino 

Every cheese has a story. It represents a culture, a land, a climate, a history of its own. The process of using sheep’s milk to produce cheese has been a tradition for thousands of years. It’s sweet, yet tangy complex flavour and nutritional benefits have been savoured for generations. Not only can sheep’s milk be used for cheese it can also be used for yogurt, ice cream and even butter. 

Sheep Cheese and Nutrition 

Sheep cheese is not only has more nutritional value but may be easier to digest than cow’s milk for those with lactose and casein intolerance due to the way it is processed. It is also higher in calcium and contains higher amounts of vitamins A, D, and E. Sheep milk contains about one-third more energy than cow or goat milk (making it a favorite of high-performance athletes). It has double the protein and much more of the right kinds of fats, vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc while being lower in sodium.

Sheep Breeds and the production of milk 

When looking for the best Sheep breed for dairy the value is in its lambing and in the amount of milk yield in a given lactation period. According to researchers, the East Friesland Sheep is the best sheep breed for dairy production: 

“The East Friesian is the best milk producing sheep in the world. They were developed in the same area as the Holstein cow, which is the Friesland area of Germany. They do well under and milking system and are very docile sheep. They are also excellent lambers with a high birthing percentage, but they tend not to fare very well in hot climates preferring the milder weather.” https://domesticanimalbreeds.com/10-best-sheep-breeds-for-milk/ 

Species % solids % fat % protein Ca, mg Calories, kcal

Cow 12.8 3.3 3.3 119 69

Goat 13.0 4.1 3.6 134 69

Sheep 19.0 7.0 6.0 193 108

Source: The nutritional value of sheep milk by George F. W. Haenlein

 *Other popular Sheep Breeds for producing milk are: The Awassi, British Milk Sheep, Lacaune Sheep, Finnsheep, Katahdin Sheep, Chios Sheep, Sarda Sheep and Icelandic Sheep.  

Irish Farmhouses Sheep Cheese 

Because of a temperate climate, Irish sheep graze on lush green grass and clovers for most of the year. The most popular sheep for milking being the East Friesland for its high yield during the lactation period. 

Even those who are just beginning their cheese journey will no doubt recognise blue cheese. It’s beautiful colour and strong vibrant taste can’t be overlooked. For the Irish cheesemakers at Cashel Blue, Tipperary, it is their passion. Their own Crozier Blue made from sheep cheese has a “rich, full and well-rounded flavour. It is gently salty with a distinctly rich creamy texture, offset by a touch of spice.” http://www.cashelblue.com/blue-cheese/crozier-blue-sheeps-milk-cheese/ 

In Cavan, Corleggy Cheeses is producing Creeny Sheep Cheese; A hard cheese handmade from RAW Sheep’s milk. “Creeny is always very slightly salty, the reason is that the sheep graze the grass to the very earth, full of salts and minerals from all the rich rain!” 

Another small family farm, in Co. Mayo, is producing Rockfield by Velvet Cloud. It is a full flavor nutty, robust tasting sheep’s cheese covered by a thick creamy/grey rind. Not only do they make cheese, they also make yogurts and milk. 

Sean and Deirdre Fitzgerald have been producing Cratloe Hills Gold at their farm in Brickhill, Co. Clare since 1988, making it the first sheep’s milk cheese in Ireland. Their hard cheese is made using vegetarian rennet and pasteurized sheep's milk sourced from their own flock of Friesland ewes. Mild, sweet and appley when young, it develops more nuttiness and caramel notes as the cheese ages. 

Following their heart, Agnes and Wolfgang Schliebitz a German couple who had dreamt of living in Ireland and starting a Sheep Farm, moved their family to beautiful West Waterford and created Knockalara Sheep Cheese.  Established in 1990, they have many years of experience of creating a range of award winning cheeses. 

CÁIS - The Irish Farmhouse Cheesemakers Association was founded in 1983 to foster the growth of natural handmade cheese production in Ireland. Its committee members act as representatives of the farmhouse cheesemaking industry with the various government departments and agencies as well as the media. https://irishcheese.ie/about-2/

 Sheridans Cheesemongers have brought sheep cheeses from around the world to Ireland. They stock the widest range of sheeps milk cheese available to customers in Ireland with these Irish and European cheeses available at shops and counters in Galway, Dublin, Meath, Waterford, Cork and Limerick. You can find any of these at https://sheridanscheesemongers.com/

“Not many foods can boast a history going back over 2000 years, but every time you buy feta you will be eating a cheese as familiar to Homer and Alexander the Great as it is at home in a modern-day salad.” [Source: www.ec.europa.eu] . Over the last ten years, retail sales of dairy products followed diverging trends in the EU, according to latest research from the European Commission. Cheese retail sales increased by 7%, both in the EU-15 (older Member States) and the EU-N13, albeit at a much faster pace in the new Member States. However, the Commission says cheese retail sales in the EU-N13 reached in 2015 only slightly over 5kg while it exceeded 9kg in the EU-15. By comparison, apparent consumption of cheese (including food services and industrial use) is estimated at 17.6kg.
Greece  Many countries have their own distinctly flavoured Sheep Cheese, changing from region to region. The most historically recognisable around the world is the Greek Feta. “Salty and slightly acidic, Feta PDO is a cheese with a history as rich as its taste.” 
France In Southern France, one of the most famous blue cheeses in the world is produced called the Roquefort. The cheese is white, tangy, crumbly and slightly moist, with distinctive veins of blue mold. 
Spain The Manchego of Spain is one of the most famous cheeses in Spain. Made in the La Mancha region from Manchego Sheep the cheese is aged from 60 days up until 2 years. It has a buttery texture, and often contains small, unevenly distributed air pockets. 
Italy Italy boasts of its Pecorino Romano and its Ricotta. “Pecorino Romano was a staple in the diet for the legionaries of ancient Rome. Today, it is still made according to the original recipe and is one of Italy's oldest cheeses. On the first of May, Roman families traditionally eat pecorino with fresh fava beans during a daily excursion in the Roman Campagna.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pecorino_Romano Ricotta is a whey cheese. It is made by coagulating the proteins that remain after the casein has been used to make cheese. The curds are creamy white in appearance, and slightly sweet in taste. 
Portugal Portugal’s sheep cheese, like their wines, have a variety of cheeses classed by region. One example is the Azeitão cheese made in the town of the same name located about 25 miles (40 km) east of Lisbon. This creamy cheese is made with thistle flowers, rather than animal rennet giving it an earthy aroma. 
Croatia It’s impossible to not to mention Pag Island when talking about Sheep Cheeses from Croatia. Located in the Adriatic Sea this little Island holds the most famous artisan cheeses in the country. “After the milk is being processed respecting the generations' old tradition, the cheese from Pag is left to age between two and eighteen months. The aging period considering aspects like humidity or temperature influences the taste greatly. Therefore, the young cheese creamy, yellowish in color will bear a softer, gentler aroma while the ripe one in a brownish shade will be slightly harder and spicier.” http://www.pagcheese.com/ 
Romania Brânză de burduf, a kneaded cheese set in fir tree bark is a specialty in Romania. This gives the cheese a specific pine resin flavour. Whereas the traditional no-fuss salty Telemea you may see on the family table in homes throughout the country.  
Britain Sheep cheese has been a part of the U.K.’s culinary history for hundreds of years. There are many tastes and textures to choose from and each one has as distinctive as the region it comes from. Here are just a few examples: 

A handful of cheese makers in Scotland are making cheese from Sheep's milk. Cora Linn is made by Errington Cheese, a small farm in South Lanarkshire. They have 450 Lacaune dairy sheep in addition to Scotch and English mules. The cheese is best described as a Hard and slightly creamy cheese with a nutty and sweet flavor. 

The Sheep Milk Company in Lancashire is producing sheep’s milk, ice cream and a wide variety of cheeses. They pride themselves on their hand-crafted with expertise. 

White Lake Cheese in Sommerset have won multiple awards including The British Cheese Awards three years running. They have a wonderful variety of sheep cheeses. Their award winning PAVÉ COBBLE is described as having notes of “sweet cream emerging, followed by nutty flavours and a slight lanolin gaminess that deepens the complexity with the age of the cheese.”  

There are many Sheep Dairy producers perfecting their craft and as they do the world turns its attention to Sheep dairy products and their benefits. It is no surprise that there is a gaining popularity of sheep milk, ice cream, yogurt, butter and of course of its luxurious cheeses around the globe as the taste alone speaks for itself.  For more about sheep milk dairy products worldwide see https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030218305290