Why milk choice matters
Cheese is made from milk, I think we all know that - but did you know it can come from basically any animal that lactates. So, yes that means cows, ewes, goats, buffalo and also camels, llamas, yaks and so forth.
How we taste something is the combination of flavour, texture and smell (and some may argue emotion/memory). The species of animal from which the milk is sourced affects its flavour, its texture and its smell.
While we’re at it thought we’d take the opportunity to explain the term farmhouse. Farmhouse, also known as farmstead in USA, refers to small production cheese made on the farm using milk produced from the cheesemaker/farmers own animals. At Harper & Blohm we honour the work done by these people who juggle the three jobs at once: farmer, cheese-maker as well as distribution/marketing/small business all-rounder.
So, here’s a primer to the most common milk sources in cheese production.
Often thought of as more neutral in flavour, cow milk may actually be ideal for allowing differences in terroir, feed, seasonality etc. to shine through in cheese-making. Cows can yield up to 20 litres of milk per day which is partly why so much of cheese is made from cow milk. It is generally more yellow in colour due to naturally occurring carotene. It also has larger molecules of fat which can lead it to having a fuller mouthfeel.
Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve is raw cows milk cheese from Wisconsin, USA. Production is limited to the warmer months, and the unpasteurised milk retains its floral and grassy flavours. There is nothing ordinary about the cow milk used to create this fine example of a modern-day farmstead cheese.
Pure white in colour, ewe milk contains no carotene but has twice the fat and calcium as cow milk, meaning less milk is required to make cheese which is handy as they don’t produce anywhere near as much as a cow does on a daily basis. Ewe milk cheese exhibit buttery, rich flavours thanks to the high milk fat content.
Try Onetik Ossau Iraty AOC for a knockout example of what ewe milk cheese can be. Sheep graze on the pastures in the French Pyrénées before milk is collected and made into cheese by a co-operative of local farmers. Its nutty complex flavour and lingering caramel sweetness will stay with long after you finish eating it.
Also white in colour, goat milk can unfortunately be affected by hormone levels which leads to a barnyard flavour, unpleasant for some. What an animal eats will also influence the milk flavours and goats are known for their independent streak, consuming bark, tree foliage and other supplemental snacks.
Goat milk cheeses are prized for their unique brightness and lactic tang. As they age, they develop creamy, earthy notes. Goat milk naturally has smaller, softer fat molecules making it more digestible than other milks.
Holy Goat La Luna is a standout goat milk cheese that ticks all the boxes – local, farmhouse, organic and made by a couple of fierce women. It’s a great example of the creamy lactic sweetness of a surface-ripened cheese with its creamy lactic sweetness and tangy finish.
Buffalos produce less milk than cows do but buffalo milk yields nearly twice as much cheese per litre when compared to cows milk. It has higher protein and fat content and is about 30% lower in cholesterol.
The milk is stark white in colour as buffalo break down beta-carotene (which makes cows milk cheese yellow) into colourless Vitamin A. It is naturally sweet to taste, with a clean finish.
Mozzarella, traditionally made with buffalo milk, is perfect in Caprese salad or to give pizza that extra pizazz.
Berrys Creek Cheese uses local buffalo milk to produce Riverine Blue, a rich, dense, buttery blue cheese with salty-minerally veins and a complex savoury flavour.
By Olivia Sutton & Amanda Kennedy