Sometimes we like to wax philosophical behind our cheese counter. We spend our entire days surrounded by fermented milk. That’s kind of an odd sort of thing to do, no? But it’s a wonderful exercise to stop, think, and imagine where our fermented milk originates. And what better time to take stock than during Lunar New Year?
This Thursday is Lunar New Year and it so happens that 2015 is the year of the Sheep (we think). We love sheep’s milk cheeses at our cheese counter. I mean really love them. Several of our bestselling cheeses are made from sheep’s milk, quite the feat considering that the vast majority of our cheeses are cow’s milk and we might only have 3 or 4 sheep’s milk cheeses at any given moment.
Why so few sheep cheeses? The biggest reason is that sheep just don’t produce a lot of milk. A sheep produces milk seasonally—for about half the year (and not a lot of it while it is milking), whereas cows produce milk for up to 300 days of the year. That means a sheep cheese producer must produce all of their cheese for the year in just a few months.
The most popular sheep cheese at our counter (and a staff favorite) is Abbaye de Belloc. It is a gorgeous cheese with a textured, dusty rind. Crack it open and you reveal a silky bone white paste. This is a monk’s cheese—meaning the recipe was developed by monks at an abbey in the Pyrenees mountains of France. Abbaye de Belloc doesn’t hit your tongue with an immediate punch of salt or sweet, rather its richness builds and it releases subtle caramel and faintly grassy flavors. The texture is just killer. Not too dry, not at all waxy, just dense and perfectly chewy.
Monks and sheep, apparently, both have a special fondness for quiet living. The beginning of Lunar New Year is, however, a great time for celebration. We are more likely to think of fireworks or lion dances than we are to imagine meditative contemplation. One fortune prediction for the year of the Sheep 2015 is that it is a year to be tolerant of family. So perhaps a wedge of Abbaye de Belloc, a nice bottle of something from the Southern Rhone, and a trip to your cantankerous Uncle’s house are in order.
Happy Lunar New Year!