One of the great things about being obsessed with cheese, is that people tend to send me cheese tidbits. Alas, not edible cheese tidbits, but links, stories and photos of cheese. Last week a friend sent me a story about extinct words of the English language, including tyromancy. Tyromancy is the art of divining the future through cheese! How in the world did this work? Was it like reading tea leaves, only with cheese curd? Were all cheese types involved, or was there a special, powerful cheese used for this purpose? Most importantly, why did tyromancy die out? Today, here, on “My Blog of Cheese” I declare the return of tyromancy: I gaze deeply into a beautiful sheep’s milk cheese, and this is what I see…
Sheep’s milk (sometimes known as ewe’s milk) cheese, is a very special cheese to me. It has a wonderful barny taste, but more than that, ancient cheese munching shepherds were not herding cows, they were herding sheep. Thus it just feels right to me to eat sheep’s cheese, I feel somehow that I’m getting closer to what cheese really is supposed to be. Plus, sheep have tiny little udders, so they really have to work a lot to make milk, and I also appreciate that. It’s good for so many reasons.
On my recent road trip to Washington state, the cheese monger I spoke to recommended that I try today’s cheese, “Mopsy’s Best.” “Oh you must, try it,” she said, “It’s a local, raw milk, sheep’s cheese.” And really, local, raw or sheep alone would have been enough for me, but the three together is like a cheese yahtzee.
Mopsy’s Best comes to us from the Black Sheep Creamery, and I urge you to visit their website, as it is fantastic and full of great sheep pictures, and who doesn’t like that? The folk at Black Sheep craft their sheep milk cheeses on their farmstead from the milk of their own flock of Rideau-Arcott and East Friesian sheep who graze near Chehalis, Washington- as well as additional milk from the Tin Willows Farm in Eastern Oregon. In case you forgot, my name is also Willow, see: tyromancy at work! Let’s call this a “Cascadian” terroir” as they are mixing milk from 2 states, but it’s all coastal, so it’s all good.
This cheese appears to be a family run affair. They got their first three sheep in 2000 when their second child had a sensitivity to cow milk, but was able to tolerate sheep milk, (can I just comment here on this being really exemplary parenting, most people would just score some soy milk from the store, but these people went out and bought sheep.) One of their first ewes was ‘Mopsy” (who now does her best.) One thing lead to another, and they have been making and selling cheese since about 2005.
Mopsy’s Best is a semi-firm raw cheese aged at least three months. Sheep’s milk has more butterfat and protein than goat and cow milk, and this helps to give it that complex flavour I’m so crazy about. The fact that the milk for Mopsy’s Best has not been pasteurized means that the flavour is more complex yet, as the milk is able to fully develop without any pasteurization getting in the way. My little wedge of Mopsy’s Best is a firm medium yellow cheese. It has a natural brown rind with a cheese cloth pattern in evidence. The colour is darker closer to the rind, and there are some small eyes in the cheese paste. The smell is rich and barnyardy (is that a word?) It smells sweet and kind of funky, but mild over all. I can’t wait.
How interesting! It changes flavour as you chew it. Initially it’s a round salty sheep taste, but then a hint of caramel emerges. Crazy! The paste has a really interesting texture, it kind of falls apart in your mouth, like it gives up the game the second it touches your tongue, and then it just kind of dissolves into this cream…wait, now it tastes earthy, and closer to the rind it gets more intense with the hit of mushroom funky fungus taste that I dig.