Goat and Sheep Cheeses You Need In Your Life

If I told you to imagine where cheese comes from, you would probably visualise the iconic image of dairy farms: black and white Holsteins dotting the landscape, slowly grazing on rolling green pasture. Although a beautiful scene, it is not the case for many of the world’s cheeses. Sure, the bulk of our cheeses are made with cow’s milk, but Holsteins are mostly reserved for the mass produced cheddars and cheese-strings of North America. Instead, we find interesting and more flavourful breeds of bovine: Jerseys, Guernseys, Canadiennes, the list goes on! Different breeds for different cheeses, particularly when we start to consider the lovely—no, incredible—but sadly underrated goat and sheep milk cheeses of the world.

I generally don’t believe people when they tell me that they don’t like goat’s milk cheese. It’s not that I’m being the judge of their own taste buds, but in most cases, I find that they simply have not given it a fair chance. In fact, I bet that if I sat a non-believer down for a blindfolded sampling, I could feed them several cheeses they would never guess were goat, and would very much enjoy.

Although I can’t be very surprised at all the aversion—the tart, salty, and chalky spread sold in tubes at the supermarket scares me away, too. To be fair, it’s still tasty and I have been known to eat my share of that on many an occasion. Goat milk cheese, when made with love from happy goats, is a beautiful thing. It is pure white, creamy, rich, slightly sweet, a little tart, and earthy—sometimes with a bit of pungent kick. There are a large range of styles, from soft and fresh to firm and aged for months, all of which I highly recommend.

My personal favourite when it comes to cheese, however, is sheep’s milk. Out of all the cheese that I have tried, sheep cheeses grab my heart again and again. The milk is so full of fat and protein (twice that of cow milk!) resulting in a cheese that is more rich and flavourful. In sheep, we find a different sort of flavour, something savoury, almost umami-like at times, and often with subtle whiffs of that distinct ‘sheepy’ note. You know when you cuddle against a sheepskin rug and breathe in that comforting, animal-scented musk? If not, I suggest more cuddles of that kind in your life – either way, that sheepy scent comes down to lanolin, the wax coating on their fur that makes their smell so distinct. The same compounds are also found in their milk, making for a whole new level of flavour in the cheese.

Tastiness aside, what makes goat and sheep milk cheeses even better is their digestibility. Many people who cannot tolerate cow’s milk find that their bodies can process goat or sheep’s milk with little or no trouble. Although they both contain more fat than cow’s milk, the fat globules in them are smaller, the lactose levels are lower, and the milk forms a much more relaxed curd in the stomach. All of which adds up to happy stomachs. The milk is much healthier as well, having more protein, vitamins, and minerals than cow’s milk.

We’re a bit backwards here in North America because most of the world drinks goat milk; besides the added nutritional benefits, goats are a breeze to raise. So why is North America obsessed with cow’s milk? Like many quirks in our food industry, it is a case of quantity over quality. Cows produce much more milk, making them more suited to feed the masses. Sheep and goat’s milk are gaining popularity though, and we’re lucky to have many cheese makers in British Columbia making some fantastic cheese from that milk.

Some wonderful examples to keep on your radar:

Salt Spring Island Cheese, Salt Spring Island

The Farmhouse Natural Cheeses, Agassiz

The Happy Goat, Duncan


— By Andrew Moyer and Laura Peterson

Spoiled Milk is a continuing, monthly column exploring the world of cheese. It is written in collaboration with Ottavio – Italian Bakery & Delicatessen

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