Cheeses made from sheep’s milk are notable for their slightly sweet flavor and rich creamy texture. Popular throughout the world, cheeses made from sheep’s milk tend to come from mountainous regions where herding dairy cattle is impractical or impossible. Sheep cheeses are a welcome contrast to traditional cheese from cow milk, and are well-worth exploration by any cheese fan.
One of the most popular and common cheeses made from sheep’s milk is feta. Made primarily in Greece, feta is a blend of milk from both sheep and goats. Under European food guidelines, real feta is a blend of 70% sheep’s milk and 30% goat’s milk. Feta is cultured in brine, giving it a salty bite. It is an essential component of traditional Greek salad and is delicious in savory Greek pastries such as spanikopita.
Spain is a major producer of cheeses made from sheep’s milk, and is well-known for several varieties. Manchego is a semi-firm cheese, aged for several months in caves. Depending on the age of the cheese, it can have a somewhat sweet or sharp taste, but is generally mildly flavored and blends well with other foods. One delicious pairing is manchego with sweet quince paste or jelly, traditionally called dulce de membrillo.
Roquefort is a blue sheep’s milk cheese made in the Roquefort-sur-Soulzon region of France. It is one of the most famous varieties of blue cheese, known for its smoky and sour tang. Historically, Roquefort is one of the earliest known cheeses made from sheep’s milk, with references to it dating back to the Roman texts of Pliny the Elder in 79 C.E. Sometimes referred to as the “king of cheese,” Roquefort demands equally strong partners in pairing, and combines well with port, Bordeaux and strong Cabernet Sauvignons.
In Italy, the most popular of the cheeses made from sheep’s milk is undoubtedly pecorino romano. This hard cheese is similar to the cow’s milk-based parmesan, but often has a stronger, and more salty flavor. Primarily a grating cheese, pecorino romano is often grated on pastas and soups. According to some experts, pecorino combines best with traditional Italian red wines such as chianti.
With flavors from salty feta to the expansive bite of Roquefort, cheeses made from sheep’s milk are quite an adventure. For those tired of the traditional cheddar or even the widely popular goat cheeses, sheep’s milk cheeses can be a new and exciting avenue of discovery. Prices of sheep milk cheeses are comparable or slightly higher than most cow milk cheeses and are easy to find at grocery stores and delis.