Best Cheeses 2022: Sheep's Milk | culture: the word on cheese
☰ menu   

Best Cheeses 2022: Sheep’s Milk

Photo by Nina Gallant | Styled by Kendra Smith

CROZIER BLUE (pictured above)
J&L Grubb Ltd. / Cashel Blue | Fethard, Ireland

This rich, sweet wheel gets its name from St. Patrick’s Crozier, a silver relic in the shape of a shepherd’s crook said to be carried by the saint—a fitting name for a sheep’s milk cheese made in Cashel, where the relic is kept. Crozier, a WCA Super Gold winner, is the only sheep’s milk blue produced in Ireland, with a creamy texture shot through with blue marbling and a briny profile that has notes of toasted nuts.

Blackberry Farm | Walland, Tenn.

When the foragers at Blackberry Farm harvest sought-after ramps in early spring, it’s only natural that their cheesemakers pair them with sheep’s milk, another highly seasonal ingredient that’s abundant at the same time. The rustic, savory flavor of the wild leeks melds with this rich and tangy fresh cheese—an ACS First Place winner—boosting its earthy qualities to create a spread you’ll want to dollop on anything and everything.

Old Chatham Creamery / Murray’s Cheese | Groton, N.Y. / New York, N.Y.

In Corsica, France, fresh, delicate rounds of Fleur du Maquis are coated in local herbs, berries, and flowers to bring out the flavors of the botanicals on which the animals graze. In New York, affineurs at Murray’s use a similar technique for this WCCC Best of Class winner, coating young wheels made with sheep’s milk from Old Chatham Creamery with a blend of herbs found in the region. Rosemary and hops offer piney, resinous notes, while lemon thyme and chervil amp up the brightness of fresh sheep’s milk.

Green Dirt Farm Creamery | Weston, Mo.

This creamy, dreamy button highlights the lusciousness of sheep’s milk—and the power of time to alter a cheese’s character. When young, Dirt Lover is buttery and citrusy, with a hint of mushroom from its ash-coated bloomy rind. As it ages, the interior of this ACS First Place American Originals winner gradually softens, taking on a spreadable texture and meaty, fungal flavor notes.

The most intriguing pairings are those that both complement and contrast—and this combo is a textbook example. The bright acidity of the marmalade cuts through the creamy, tongue-coating paste while the floral, zesty sweetness amps up the cheese’s delicate citrus notes.

Briar Rose Creamery | Dundee, Ore.

Some think of feta as a utilitarian cheese, exiled to salad bars and
dusty tubs of supermarket crumbles. Briar Rose’s sought-after, multiple award-winning, highly seasonal feta is different, made with traditional sheep’s milk rather than the cow’s milk that’s more commonly used in the US. It’s subtle and complex, offering notes of strawberry, orange blossom, and honey, along with the characteristic briny profile and creamy yet crumbly texture we love in this iconic style.

Hidden Springs Creamery | Westby, Wis.

Brenda and Dean Jensen run Hidden Springs with old-school farming practices, using draft horses to pull equipment, eschewing chemical inputs, and raising 500 East Friesian and Lacaune sheep on pasture. This care and respect for tradition shows through in cheeses like Ocooch Mountain Reserve, named one of the World’s Top 20 Cheeses at WCCC. Aged out to six months, this Alpine-style wheel has a dense texture and intensely nutty, savory flavor reminiscent of a sheep’s milk Gruyère.

SALCIS | Siena, Italy

In springtime, sheep’s milk is abundant. To better preserve their pecorino, the cheesemakers of Emilia-Romagna turn to a time-honored technique: aging the small wheels in young, tender leaves harvested from walnut trees. This protects and preserves the cheese through the warm season, during which the wheels develop a drier, flakier texture and earthy, tannic notes—qualities that were deemed worthy of a sofi Gold.

Whenever a cheese is produced using another food or beverage on the rind—be that a wash in beer, a rub with spices or seasonings, or a swaddling in leaves—one of the first pairings to try is that product in some form. Taste alongside simple toasted walnuts to discover what complementary notes a summer wrapped in walnut leaves have left in this unique pecorino.

Cañarejal S.L. | Valladolid, Spain

A combination of rich raw sheep’s milk and thistle rennet—a traditional hallmark of Iberian cheeses—helps Cañarejal Cremoso live up to its name. After a few weeks of ripening, the paste takes on the rich, dollop-able texture of lemon curd, with notes ranging from floral to mushroom, encased within a bloomy, basket-like rind. Let this WCA Super Gold–winning beauty come to room temperature, pop the top with a paring knife, and dip in with bread, crackers, or a spoon.

Cypress Grove | Arcata, Cali.

This smooth, approachable wheel is the sole sheep’s milk offering from American artisan icon Cypress Grove. Like their aged goat’s milk cheese, Midnight Moon, Lamb Chopper is made in Holland, where the best goudas in the world are produced. With a smooth, supple texture and approachable sweetness complemented with notes of butter and cream, this ICDA Champion is an excellent starter cheese for those exploring sheep’s milk styles for the first time.

Lácteos Martínez S.L.U. | Haro, Spain

Careful management of the Spanish wheel’s rustic, sandstone- like exterior is key to its intense flavor and unique character, both of which earned it a spot in WCCC’s list of the World’s Top 20 Cheeses. Rubbing the rinds with olive oil several times over the course of six months in the aging cave controls mold growth, keeps the cheese from drying out, and imparts a unique character. With an ivory-colored paste stippled with delicate eyelets, the flavor is nutty and bold. Try it alongside a glass of Rioja or another medium-bodied red.

Alexandra Jones

Alexandra Jones is a writer and recovering cheesemonger based in Philadelphia. Her work on food, agriculture, social justice, and sustainability has appeared in outlets like USA Today, Food & Wine, Atlas Obscura, Civil Eats, The Counter, Audubon, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Modern Farmer. She’s the author of Stuff Every Cheese Lover Should Know, a pocket guide to cheese from Quirk Books.

Leave a Reply