Monday, June 15, 2009

Hail to the Sheep

Hail to the sheep. Mother nature's scrappy and robust ruminants. From Iceland to the Middle East to New Jersey, sheep have been running amok for centuries, making their agricultural mark. Of course, for our own selfish purposes, it's the dairy sheep that interest us most. Still by far the smallest cheese contingent in the United States (cows and goats outnumber our fleeced friends by quite a long shot) they produce some of the best dairy products around. This week's email is a love letter to sheeps' milk ricotta, fresh from Vermont.

Vermont Shepherd was one of the pioneer sheep dairies in the US, proving that it was possible to make a living from milking sheep and making cheese. After a trip to France in the early nineties, the Majors set up shop in southern Vermont and began making Vermont Shepherd, an aged cheese after the Pyrenees tradition. This year, for the first time Saxelby Cheesemongers is thrilled to carry their Ricotta Lana, a mouth watering take on sheeps' milk ricotta that lies somewhere between the fluffy, springy fresh stuff and the more dense and compact ricotta salata.

Ricotta Lana is made from fresh curd, just like traditional ricotta, but is then molded and drained in small baskets to squeeze out a bit more moisture. The result is a fresh cheese that is curdy and snappy, with a sweet, yet sheepy flavor so distinctive you might think you've wandered into a congregation of the ovine persuasion in some French or Italian village. Ricotta Lana is meaty and rich for a fresh cheese; it has enough heave-ho to make a killer gnudi, and makes a lasagna so fortified you could cross a desert after eating it. For lighter summer fare, let the Lana grace your breakfast table topped with your favorite honey or preserves. Or just crumble a bit over a menagerie of crisp greens for a more satiating salad. We've searched high and low for a sheeps' milk ricotta to please our palates, and want you to have some too.

Till next week... may the sheep cheese be with you.

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