Sheep’s milk cheeses are sneaky. Very, very sneaky. They don’t come across as the ‘Look At Me’ milk when sitting alongside its goat and cow counterparts. But every time I hand somebody a little sample of a sheep’s milk cheese at the shop, the same process happens again and again: sheer, unadulterated, full mouth bliss.
I’ve been accidentally falling in love with sheep’s milk cheeses for the past year. I remember when I was still a simple cheese buyer, relying on Louise and her dairy knowledge to lead me from Crottin to Mt. Tam to Colston Bassett. One day she handed me a sample of a new blue in the shop – Beenleigh Blue. The moment it hit my mouth the world fell silent. I’ve been an avid blue fan since birth but this one was something special. It turns out it was a sheep’s milk blue, instead of the more common cow, a combination I had never tasted and a day I will never forget.
Most people think of Manchego or Pecorino when thinking of sheep’s milk – something familiar and mild, something approachable and easily paired with wines, meats or other cheeses. And it is quite friendly, so far as cheeses go. Last week, an unusual wheel with recognizable packaging popped up in the case. Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, a farm I’m growing absolutely smitten with. So much so that I even, only a few hours ago, threw my hat into the ring for a New York Times contest to find a ‘Master of Cheese Descriptions’ with a paragraph about their Hudson Valley Camembert:
“Old Chatham Hudson Valley Camembert, as it is often packaged, really is a square. This mild-mannered cheese often lets the bolder cheeses shine. But, just one bite and you will see it in a whole new light; its killer packaging, its sweet aroma, and its decadent, buttery richness just begging to leave you licking your lips. This mixed-milk cheese may seem all Toyota Corolla on the outside, but inside it’s pure Alfa Romeo, baby.”
Now, this new kid on the block (at least to me), Kinderhook Creek, is making me swoon. It’s made with 100% pasteurized sheep’s milk and is a soft-ripened cheese. Did you hear that? Soft-ripened! All of my sheep’s milk experiences, thus far, have been firm cheeses – this one is soft like a Brunet or pillowy goat’s milk disk. Beloved for the taste of the terroir of New York’s Hudson Valley from which they graze, it is at once creamy and light but still dense and moist, with a bright, but still vegetal, overtone. It looks, feels and smells delicate, which it is, but it is also firm and slightly savory.
PS – Here’s a little more from the Old Chatham site on Tom and Nancy Clark, the gods behind Kinderhook and the farm that is making my life better with each bite:
“The story of the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company really begins with a blue ribbon 10-year-old Tom Clark won for his Hampshire sheep at the Dutchess County Fair in upstate New York. At the time, he told a local newspaper reporter when he grew up he wanted to raise a flock. His career path took him elsewhere, but then Tom and his wife Nancy bought 600 acres of lush grassy fields in Old Chatham, New York. They now own the largest sheep dairy farm in the United Sates.
Since the beginning in 1993, Tom and Nancy have been involved in every aspect of the operation from helping design the barns and creamery to cheesemaking. If you happen to be in the neighborhood on a summer weekend, drive along Shaker Museum Road and wave at the guy on the big red tractor. It is probably Tom.”
How awesome do these people sound? Do you think it would be weird if I just showed up at their doorstep and gave them a hug?
Come on in to Artisan Cheese Company and try a sample – my treat.