Falling for Ewes
Seek cheese from dairy sheep for your feasts.
Photos courtesy Weirauch Farm and Creamery
Making sheep’s milk cheese is a seasonal activity, as sheep are generally only milked half the year. But that cheese can change with the seasons—just look to Weirauch Farm and Creamery’s St. Rose sheep’s milk cheese to see how it evolves. Made with raw sheep’s milk, it ages. By late fall, its mildness becomes bold; its sweetness becomes sharp.
Locally made sheep’s milk cheese is not nearly as commonly made as Jack cheese, or even chevre. That’s partly because dairy sheep, like the East Freisians in Carleen and Joel Weirauch’s small flock in Petaluma, were only introduced into the United States in the mid-’90s. “There are still only a few sheep dairies in the whole state,” Carleen Weirauch said. “For the most part, you’re making sheep’s milk cheese only if you have your own animals.”
St. Rose is Weirauch’s award-winning aged sheep’s milk cheese. It is a French-inspired, Old World–style cheese with a natural rind, made during the spring and summer, when sheep are milked.
The cheese is made right on the farm in 110-gallon batches. The chilled milk is heated to about 90 degrees—around the same temperature as when its fresh from the ewe—and inoculated with cultures that encourage specific microorganisms, the tasty kind, to grow. An enzyme is then used to thicken the milk into curd. It’s then cut into pieces, drained, and placed into molds. After an overnight brine in salt water, the aging process begins.
Two months later St. Rose becomes its award-winning self—delicate, semi-soft, sweet, and subtly nutty. But it continues to age, and as it does, it becomes denser, tangy, pronouncedly nutty, with floral and citrus notes. “It continues its life cycle,” said Weirauch, “and becomes more complex over time.”
St. Rose is best stored wrapped in wax paper and placed in a lidded container or in an open plastic bag. When you’re ready to serve it, bring it to room temperature. Because it’s a well-balanced cheese, without pungent or funky flavors, it’s incredibly versatile. “When it’s younger and milder, it’s lovely with fruit from the market, and when it ages, it’s great to do little shavings on salads or pastas, or even gratins,” Weirauch said. It also goes well with hard ciders, such as those from local cidermaker Tilted Shed, whose pressed apples are fed to Weirauch’s sheep.
Look for Weirauch Farm and Creamery’s stand at the Berkeley farmers’ markets on Saturdays and Thursdays, and watch the cheeses change as winter descends.