In our series on Canadian Cheese, cheese lover Ashley Linkletter explores why now's the time to get excited about Canadian cheese. Today Ashley explores lesser-known sheep's milk cheeses, and shares some of the best Canadian sheep's milk cheese on offer.
Despite the popularity of sheep’s milk in European cheesemaking (you might be familiar with Italy’s Pecorino Romano or Spain’s Manchego, for example), sheep’s milk cheeses remain somewhat of a rarity in Canada.
There are a few explanations for this imbalance, the primary reason being that the cost of producing sheep’s milk cheese is prohibitive. Sheep yield less milk than cows or goats and they rely on seasonal pasture for food, which means they only produce milk during certain times of the year. Because of these very specific factors, Canadian sheep’s milk cheeses tend to be more expensive than their cow and goat-dairy peers.
Despite this, and thanks to increasing public interest in artisanal cheesemaking, sheep’s milk cheeses are gradually infiltrating cheese counters across Canada.
What Does Sheep’s Milk Taste Like?
Sheep’s milk has a distinct taste that can be described as mild, rich, and clean (unlike goat cheeses, sheep’s milk cheeses really only become gamey-tasting when aged). Cheeses made from sheep’s milk will often carry forward the terroir of where the sheep were grazing; “grassy” and “with a hint of sweet barnyard” and “hay” are words I often use to describe sheep’s milk cheeses.
If you’re new to sheep’s milk cheeses, try to find fresh versions to begin with, as fresh sheep’s milk cheeses are very mild and have a pleasant lemony flavour.
The Health Benefits of Sheep’s Cheeses
Many people who suffer from lactose allergies and intolerances find that they can easily tolerate sheep’s milk cheeses, even if attempts at consuming goat diary have proven unsuccessful in the past.
Sheep’s milk cheeses contain over twice the amount of protein that cow and goat cheeses have to offer and they’re very high in B-complex vitamins, folic acid and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D and E. Sheep’s milk cheeses are also more calorie-dense than other cheeses, making them a great source of energy for athletes and anyone working in a job that expends a high amount of energy.
The Best Sheep’s Milk Cheeses Canada Has To Offer
- Note: Many of these cheeses are only available regionally or seasonally; check with your local specialty cheese shop for availability.
Zacharie Cloutier is a gorgeous thermalized sheep’s milk cheese from Fromagerie Nouvelle France’s brother and sister team Jean-Paul and Marie-Chantal Houde. When we were lucky enough to carry Zacharie Cloutier at les amis du FROMAGE, my co-worker and I used to describe this firm cheese to customers as, “tasting of fresh hay and sunshine.”
If you come across this relatively hard-to-find cheese do yourself a favour and give it a try (especially if you serve it alongside a dollop of quince jelly).
Other delicious sheep’s milk cheeses from Fromagerie Nouvelle France include Madelaine, a buttery soft, bloomy rind cheese, and le Pionnier, a joint cow and sheep’s milk effort between FNF and Fromagerie du Presbytère that tastes like a French comté.
Made by the fromagerie La Vache a Maillote, Allegretto is a versatile cheese that’s just as comfortable on a sophisticated cheese plate as it is being used for its more utilitarian properties. With rich notes of straw and butter, try shaving big curls of Allegretto onto your next Caesar salad or thinly slice it and serve with fresh figs or nectarine wedges.
A nod to Corsica’s Fleur du Maquis, Piacere is made by Ontario’s impressive Monforte Dairy. Made into small wheels, Piacere is a soft aged sheep’s milk cheese that’s coated with rosemary, summer savoury and chilis. If there were ever a cheese made for picnics, Piacere would be it. Alternately, serve while dining al fresco with an ice-cold gin and tonic.
If you can find Monforte Dairy products look for their Paradiso and Toscana sheep’s milk cheeses (among their other cow, goat and buffalo milk cheeses).
Tomme du Kamouraska
This unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese is made by Fromagerie le Mouton Blanc and is typically sold around the four-month aging period, although depending on the time of year, you may be able to find an extra-aged version of Tomme du Kamouraska.
Nutty and faintly grassy-tasting, use a cheese plane to create extra-thin slices for grilled cheese sandwiches with mango or peach chutney. Both the young and more aged cheeses are particularly tasty when served alongside a chilled white wine with plenty of big flavour.
Fromagerie le Mouton Blanc also makes Vlimeux, an intensely smoky semi-firm sheep’s milk cheese, Cormoran, a fruity yet still-spicy sheep’s milk blue, and Tomme au Poivre, a firm sheep’s cheese studded with whole black peppercorns.
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