Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Intern Blog - Sheep's Milk Epiphany (by Courtney McDonald)

As mentioned in Dan’s earlier blog, last week Yola the Friesian ewe came to live at Flying Mule Farm. Since I own half of her, we are splitting the milking duties.

Growing up, one of my chores was to milk the goats every morning. This was largely the family’s sole source of milk. Most of the time it was unpasteurized. To my sister, my brother and I it was just the milk we drank every day.

Since starting my internship with Flying Mule Farm my old milking days have come in handy. It’s like riding a bike…you don’t forget the hand motion. I had always enjoyed my milking duties as a kid, but now I understand a lot more about what the milk is and what can be done with it. It’s a special privilege to have a steady supply of beautiful, raw sheep’s milk at hand. We have been storing the fresh milk in sterilized glass bottles, and the viscosity of the cold milk against the clear glass is pretty amazing.

For making cheese, the yield is much greater than that of both cow’s and goat’s milk because of the higher casein protein content. The first cheese I made was simple ricotta so that we could all taste the pure flavor of the milk in the cheese. Compared to homemade cow’s milk ricotta, which typically has a yield of 25%, Yola’s sheep’s milk ricotta yielded more than 33%. I gave some of the leftover whey to my friend Nathan, and he used it to bake a beautiful loaf of artisan bread. I’ll consider that a second-hand yield of Yola’s milk!

There is much controversy surrounding unpasteurized milk of all kinds, and with good reason. If handled improperly, unpasteurized milk may harbor dangerous pathogens that can cause serious health problems in humans. Proper handling and storage of the milk are extremely important, but when handled properly raw milk has a higher vitamin content and a much richer flavor. It’s also much easier to make cheese and yogurt with because the protein has not begun to break down due to heat treatment.

There is a great article about raw milk cheese making in The New Yorker called “Raw Faith” by Burkhard Bilger, August 19th, 2002. Here’s the link:

In the first short week that we have had Yola, I think we are all learning a great deal. Milking an animal is an experience unlike many others, and everyone who has tried it so far with Yola has been pleasantly surprised at the results. Dan’s oldest daughter, Lara, is especially interested in the whole milking process. I bet in another week she’ll be the best milker out of all of us!

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