sheep's milk cheese
We all know that Wisconsin and California like to duke it out in national media over the title of King of Cheese/Happy Cows/Whatever, which seems to be fine for the local cheesemakers who are quietly and steadily becoming a force. How Minnesotan of them to fly under the radar. This summer they took a step forward as nine local artisans banded together to form the Minnesota Cheesemakers Guild to share knowledge, lend support to fledgling cheesemakers, promote local talent, and help move Minnesota cheese in the best direction.
Jodi Ohlsen Read of Shepherd’s Way Farms is president of the guild and a natural choice. In her 15 years of making sheep’s milk cheese, she’s weathered the struggles of a small family farm, seen the ups and downs of the economy, and learned a ton along the way. Her collection of cheeses has never been better—perennial favorite Big Woods Blue just brought home a third-place ribbon from the 2013 American Cheese Society awards, and her Friesago brand continues to be a critical darling. But it’s the recent additions of small-batch cheeses that should make you sit up and sharpen your cheese knife. Hidden Falls is a blend of sheep’s and cow’s milk with a bloomy rind leading to a creamy interior that doesn’t go over the top with richness like a triple-cream, but instead stays balanced, letting the light woodsy flavor come forth. It is subtle and restrained, which is refreshing.
The farm’s most exciting debut had to be last year’s Morcella cheese, a soft-ripened sheep cheese made with spring and summer milk and local morel mushrooms. It’s a creamy experience with a lilt of earthiness that doesn’t give over to an excess of fungi—again subtlety reigns and you’re given a delicate, irresistible cheese. Alas, it’s a seasonal, but you might still be able to find a hunk out there for another week or so. Or you can get excited for Burr Oak, which just hit the market. The aged natural rind sheep cheese has notes of butterscotch and hazelnut, once again proving there’s a lot going on in Minnesota cheese.