Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Using Sheep's Milk to Make Cheese

A few months ago, we received this note from a customer:

I was wondering if you might post on your "recipes wanted" section a request for recipes specifically developed or adapted for sheep's milk? I know three are a number of English and European cheese made with ewe's milk but very few recipes on line or in my books seem to specifically deal with it.

Here at New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, we don't have much opportunity to use sheep milk with our recipes. We can tell you some of the basics, but we admit to having very limited experience with the real thing. So, if you have a sheep farm and you are making cheese with your milk, we would love to hear from you.

It is estimated that there are only around 100 sheep dairy farms in the US.  (One of them is Cordero Farms in Oklahoma.  They have a great blog called "Who's Your Farmer?" and they were kind enough to let us use their pictures here).  You may not even realize many of the cheeses you eat regularly are traditionally made with sheep milk:

Pecorino Romano

There are many advantages to making cheese with sheep milk:

1.  Sheep milk can be frozen until enough is accumulated to make cheese.  This is because, unlike cow and goat milk, the smaller fat and protein particles do not separate when defrosting.  (Note:  the ideal temperature for freezing is -17F or lower.)

2.  Sheep milk has more solids in it than cow and goat milk.  In fact, up to 2 and 1/2 times as much cheese can be made from one gallon of sheep milk than from other milks.  It is so thick that yogurt made with sheep milk does not require any firming agents (which raise the lactose level in other yogurts).

Composition of different kinds of milk
% solids
% Fat
% protein
calcium (mg)
calories (kcal)
Source: The nutritional value of sheep milk by George F. W. Haenlein

3.  Because sheep milk is loaded with more fat, protein, and vitamins, it tastes sweeter than other milk.  Sheep milk is highly nutritious, richer in vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium than cow's milk.

4.  Many people who can't eat cow or goat milk cheese, can eat sheep milk because the smaller fat globules are more easily digested.  According to recent studies*, 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.
*  This comes by permission, from a great website, Sheep 101

These are some possible disadvantages:

1.  If you are buying your sheep milk, it is usually expensive and the season is shorter.

2.  Because the milk is so loaded with good bacteria, it needs to be either frozen or made into cheese very soon after milking, because it spoils rapidly.

3.  When you are using sheep milk, you are usually using milk from ewes that are in the same stage of lactation.  Therefore the variations between early and late stage lactation are much more apparent; the milk from early lactation coagulates much faster than the milk from late lactation.

Therefore, you need to pay much more attention to the amount of rennet you are using in your recipes.  During early lactation, you may need to decrease it by as much as 5 times the amount designated in recipes such as ours.

As we said, we do not claim to be experts on the use of sheep milk.  So, we would welcome any information you might share with us about your experience with it.  Write to us at


Aziza said...

next year we hope to be making sheep cheese. i've got a few dairy sheep and when we've got sheep milk, somehow there's never enough left after coffee to make cheese with... it is *the* milk for your morning coffee and cereal.
we've had some difficulty keeping our sheep in milk after weaning, in part because they're difficult to hand-milk out. if they're not milked completely out, they shut down production rather quickly (unlike our goats.) we bought a milking machine (too late for this season) and we'll use that next year... should be a big help in keeping them milked out and in production for a reasonable length of time.
looking forward to following this thread for many ideas...

Jeri said...

Thanks for the first hand info. That's very interesting about the "milking out" problem. I hope one of our readers has some suggestions for you. Meanwhile, can I come over for coffee and cereal some morning?!!

Nathan said...

Yea anyone out there having success with prolonged milk production and milking sheep by hand?

Nathan said...

Anyone having success with prolonged milk production milking sheep by hand? Any tricks you can share?

Jeri said...

Thanks for your comment. I can put your question in the Moosletter if you care to be a little more specific about what you're asking. Are you responding to Aziza's comment? You can contact me at

Farmgal said...

I am on my third year of milking my sheep and yes, you can milk for a good while on a ewe, and I have been making yogurt and cheese's from the milk.

I will admit that there does appear to be a learning curve on adjusting the recipes for goat or cow milk to the sheep milk.

Jeri said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm always looking for recipes modified for sheep's milk for our blog, so if you ever have time to write one up (and take a few pics) let me know-

Laura C Frazier said...

I am milking a few Icelandic ewes. I find that the Chevre(DS)-5pack C20G makes lovely cheese that is somewhere between crumbly and creamy when hung. I add some spices and work them in gently by hand. I have about 3/4 inch of cream at the top of each jar, so I have to gently stir that in. It's just so sweet and yummy with no after taste. I use and Udderly Ez hand milker because those teats are so tiny. This milker also keeps hair and other things out of the milk.

I hope to try some other types of cheese, too.

Laura said...

Traditionally, sheep are only milked for about 6 months. That way, their bodies can recover so they're ready to breed and start the process over again. They shouldn't be milked for almost a year like a cow or even a goat. They're just not made that way!

Jeri said...

Thanks for the information. That certainly is a disadvantage.