I have always enjoyed a cheeky Spanish tapas and along with chorizo, Manchego cheese is a favourite dish. What you may not know is that Manchego is one of a number of tasty cheeses that is made from ewe’s milk – along with Feta (Greece, Italy, and France), Ricotta and Pecorino Romano (Italy) and Roquefort (France). It can also be made into ice cream and yoghurt.
Humans have been milking sheep long before they milked cows. Ewe’s milk is highly nutritious, richer in vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium than cow’s milk. It contains a higher proportion of short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which have recognized health benefits. For example, short-chain fatty acids have little effect on cholesterol levels in people. According to a German researcher, sheep milk has more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than the milk from pigs, horses, goats, cattle, and humans. CLA is a cancer-fighting, fat-reducing fat. The fat globules in sheep milk are smaller than the fat globules in cow’s milk, making sheep milk more easily digested. It can be frozen and stored until a sufficient quantity of milk is available to sell or make cheese and the cheese-making qualities of the milk isn’t affected by a spell in the freezer. Interestingly, sheep milk has a higher solids content than goat or cow milk. As a result, more cheese can be produced from a litre of sheep milk than a litre of goat or cow milk. Sheep milk yields 18 to 25 percent cheese, whereas goat and cow milk only yield 9 to 10 percent.
Armed with this information, I decided to look into so called “dairy breeds” with a view to moving away from buying in milk and making our own cheese, yoghurt and even ice cream. I finally settled on looking further into Zwartbles, a Dutch breed that a neighbour had a small flock of but are not that common in the UK having only been imported in the late 1980’s. The idea then went onto the long list of stuff to be done on our journey to self-sufficiency.
A chance conversation with another neighbour then led us to action. He had bought 3 “store lambs” which are sold to people with small bits of land to fatten up and then send for the freezer. Unfortunately for him, his young daughter had decided to name the female lamb Pearl and had taken to taking out carrot and apple to feed her. When the time came for the sheep to loaded onto the trailer for the short trip to the abattoir, they realised that they were too attached to Pearl and asked me did I want to buy her. She joined the Ffynnon Beuno team shortly after and my neighbour donated an elderly ewe as a companion called Queenie. The pair are now inseparable and boss the alpacas and even the pony about – Pearl still loves a carrot and a rub behind the ears. We are hoping to hear the patter of tiny hooves by Easter too so we have lots of new things to learn this year before looking to milk Pearl and start making our own cheese!