Cheese is made from milk and milk comes from many different mammals. The most popular milk types for cheese making are cow, goat, sheep, and Water Buffalo. There are cheeses made from Yak and even reindeer milk. Today I will focus on the more common types of milk being cow, goat, and sheep.
In most countries around the world, goat milk is preferred making it the most consumed type of milk. Goat milk is pure white and naturally homogenized. The fat in cow’s milk will rise to the surface whereas the fat globules in goat milk are much smaller and will remain suspended. Goat milk is lower in lactose and is easier to digest than cow’s milk. People who have issues with cow’s milk will often find goat’s milk to be a wonderful alternative. Goat milk is a great source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B2, potassium, and the amino acid tryptophan. Goat’s milk also has anti-inflammatory compounds called oligosaccharides and can enhance the metabolism of iron and copper. Goat’s milk can be frozen and stored for up to 30 days. Freezing goat’s milk and using it for cheese making will result in a more delicate curd.
Goats lactate for ten months and their milk will become scarce as they move into their breeding season. For this reason, goat’s milk is harder to come by in winter but the milk will have a higher butterfat content. Goats are milked twice a day and can produce between 3-5 quarts of milk per day. Milk from the Nubian breed has larger fat globules and is great for making soft and semi-firm cheeses. The Toggenburg breed of goat will produce milk with smaller globules which is great for making sharp aged cheese.
Goat milk can taste sweet with a salty undertone. Goat’s milk cheese can have a tangy flavor that will mellow with age. There are many different kinds of cheeses made from goat’s milk ranging from fresh and soft to aged and hard. There are also yogurts, ice creams, and butters made from goat’s milk. People often tell me they do not like goat cheese but I argue they have not met the right goat cheese yet.
We have been milking sheep longer than we have been milking cows but there are only 100 sheep dairies in the United States. Sheep milk is rich, concentrated and has the highest amount of fat and protein when compared to cow and goat milk. Sheep’s milk is also higher in nutrients than cow or goat milk. Sheep milk is rich in Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Sodium, Folate, Vitamin A and C. It also provides Iron, Zinc, Selenium, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Niacin, Panthothenic acid, Vitamin B6 and B12. Sheep’s milk can help reduce cholesterol as its primary fats are heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Sheep’s milk contains medium chain triglycerides which may reduce cholesterol.
Sheep’s milk also has high levels of conjugated linoleic acid which can fight cancer and reduce fat. The fat globules in sheep milk are small and people who cannot tolerate cow or goat milk can often enjoy sheep milk.
Lactating ewes of any breed can be milked. There are more than a dozen sheep breeds that specialized in dairy producers. Only a few of these breeds are available in the United States, the East Friesian and Lacaune. These breeds will produce 400-1,100 pounds of milk per lactation as compared to the 100-200 pounds of milk per lactation for conventional sheep.
Sheep milk is sweet, nutty, and creamy. Sheep have the shortest lactation period and can produce milk for up to eight months. Sheep are milked twice a day and can produce about a quart per day. Sheep milk has more solids than goat or cow milk which means more cheese can be made from one gallon of sheep milk. Goat and cow milk will yield 9-10% cheese where sheep milk will yield 18-25%. Sheep produce less milk than cows and goats making it four times as expensive. Freezing does not alter the cheesemaking ability of sheep’s milk which can be frozen and stored for up to 30 days
Cow’s milk is 88% water, 5% lactose, 3.5-5% protein, 3-5% fat and minerals and enzymes make up the remaining percentage. Cow’s milk has the highest amount of carotene which makes the milk look yellow. Cow’s milk can taste earthy and grassy but taste will depend on season. Cows have a longer lactation period than goats and sheep. If the breeding is staggered for a herd of cows, they can be milked year round. Cows are milked twice a day and can produce between 8-20 quarts of milk per day. One gallon of milk will produce about a pound of cheese. Cow’s milk cannot be frozen and used for cheese making. Milk from Jersey and Guernsey breeds of cow have the largest fat globules making their milk wonderful for making soft and semi soft cheeses. Ayrshire milk has the smallest fat globules and is great for making sharp Italian cheese and long aged Cheddar.
Cow’s milk is a great source of iodine, calcium, Vitamin D, tryptophan, riboflavin, phosphorus. Cow's milk is also a good source of protein, potassium and Vitamin B12, K, and A. Grass fed cows produce milk with conjugated linoleic acid which can prevent cancer, lower cholesterol, and prevent atherosclerosis.
Many people will argue that the best way to enjoy cow’s milk is to drink it raw. When milk is referred to as raw, it means the milk has not been pasteurized. Raw milk contains components that assist in killing pathogens, preventing pathogen absorption, and strengthen the immune system. Many of these immune enhancing and antimicrobial components are greatly reduce by pasteurization and destroyed by ultra-pasteurization. Raw milk is safe only if it comes from a safe producer. Do you know where your milk comes from?
Raw milk can be legally sold in 28 states within the United States. Many cheeses are made using raw milk. In the United States, raw milk cheeses must be aged for a minimum of sixty days before they can legally be sold. After sixty days, the acids in the cheese have killed any harmful pathogen. Raw milk cheeses are legal and widely available in Europe. A recent report issued by the Australian government argues that producers can make raw milk cheese equivalent to pasteurized cheese in safety.
Don’t judge a cheese by its milk type unless you have allergies or lactose issues. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy a Goat Gouda or Sheep’s milk brie. There is also a variety of cheeses made using two or more milk types. Try a mixed milk cheese like Menage and taste what you have been missing. "Cheese from the ewe, milk from the goat, butter from the cow" is an old Spainsh Proverb that seems to say the best milk comes from goats, butter from cows, and cheese from sheep. There might be some truth to that but I love cheese made from all of them.