If you’re an imported cheese fan like us, you may marvel at all the amazingly different flavors and textures of cheese that are available! Cheesemaking techniques and aging play a big part as does the type of animal milk used. As a general rule of thumb when composing a cheeseboard it’s a great idea to include at least one or two goat or sheep’s milk cheeses to provide contrast and create a tantalizing taste experience.
Did you ever wonder why cheeses made with different milks taste so dramatically different? Or maybe you or a loved one aren’t yet fans of goat or sheep’s milk cheeses. Here’s our guide to what makes them so special and options for various ways to enjoy them no matter your palate!
What Makes Them So Special
Goat’s Milk Cheeses: It really all goes back to where the milk comes from! Goats have strong stomachs and like to eat plants that cows avoid, like brambles and thornier grasses. Their milk picks up these flavors, which transfers to their cheese. Goat’s milk also has a much higher concentration of fatty acids, but less milk protein, than cow’s milk which is what gives many cow’s milk cheeses their sweet edge. The higher concentration of fatty acids such as caproic, caprylic and capric acid in goat’s milk gives goat cheese its signature tangy flavor, and the lower amount of milk protein gives it a smoother, creamier texture. It’s one of the most easily digestible options and excellent for people who are lactose intolerant. As goat cheese ages, the tanginess gives way more creamy and earthy flavors. See our piece on “Get to Know Your Goat Cheese Maker” for more on the interesting history of goat cheese making that dates back to the 8th century in the Loire Valley of France.
Sheep’s Milk Cheeses: Sheep will primarily only eat the tender, sweet top blade grass. In fact, if a grazing herd of sheep are left at pasture for too long the field would wind up looking freshly mowed! Sheep’s milk cheese is the highest in fat and that, coupled with their grazing preferences, makes sheep’s milk cheeses rich, buttery and usually less strong in flavor. These higher levels of fat and protein also mean that sheep’s milk has the most solid content, so it actually takes less sheep’s milk to make cheese than either cow’s or goat’s milk. The high butterfat content in sheep’s milk gives sheep’s milk cheese a buttery and rich flavor. Other typical flavors of sheep’s milk cheese are nutty and in non aged varieties a slightly barnyard-like taste.
Our Favorite Ways to Enjoy Them
Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy goat and sheep’s milk cheeses, especially if you’re new to them!
♥ Start with a Mild Variety: Spanish sheep’s milk Manchego cheese is a classic on cheeseboards and in tapas. It has a mild nuttiness that tastes delicious drizzled with honey and is a crowd-pleasing option for all. It also pairs amazingly with salty cured meats. Try it in our Spanish Manchego and Serrano Party Bites for your next gathering.
♥ Try a Blend: Many cheeses are made with a mix of types of milk to lend a unique texture and interesting flavor profile. Greek Halloumi is one of our favorites! It has a mild creamy flavor and denseness that’s perfect for grilling and searing like in our Grilled Halloumi and Vegetable Skewers.
♥ Go for Grated: A classic way to enjoy harder aged sheep’s milk cheeses like imported Italian Pecorino is to use it dusted on pasta, eggs, or even roasted vegetables. It adds a punch of amazing flavor and saltiness and can be swapped in for Parmesan cheese in just about any recipe. To enjoy Pecorino like the Romans do make our easy One Pan Cacio e Pepe. It uses only pasta, pepper, and pecorino to combine into an unforgettable dish!
♥ As a Salad Topper: We love sheep’s milk imported Feta cheese crumbled on all manner of salads from traditional Greek salads to spinach salad and more. If you feel that Feta is a bit too tart for you definitely give imported Italian Ricotta Salata a try on your salads and vegetable dishes. It has a similar creamy-crumbly texture with much less bite and pairs deliciously with watermelon in summer salads or in our Lemony Pasta Salad with Peas.
♥ Dips and Dressings: A fantastic way to enjoy the flavor of sheep and goat’s milk cheeses while taming their traditional bite is to stir them into creamy dressings and dips. Try some imported sheep’s milk French Roquefort in your next blue cheese dip or creamy horseradish sauce for roast beef. Goat cheeses and feta are also delicious mixed into yogurt with herbs for spreads or dips.
♥ Pair with Sweet Flavors: Goat and sheep’s milk cheeses are often enjoyed with honey, jam, fruit, and other sweet condiments. The balance of sweet-tart-salty-savory creates a flavor explosion in your mouth and is a fantastic way to grow your appreciation of these special cheeses!