Just as a wine can be blended from several grape varieties, cheese doesn’t have to come purely from one source to achieve divinity in flavor, body, and texture. As much as we all love a traditional, creamy Camembert or a tangy Chevre, sometimes it’s the mixed-milk cheeses that keep the senses most engaged.
Traditionally, cheese has served a functional role in the dairy industry — milk had a short shelf life, and cheese provided an opportunity for dairy farmers to increase sales and ship their product to different parts of the country. Many farmers bred only one type of animal, and so cheese was rarely mixed. Over time, as cheese became more of a delicacy in its own right, cheesemakers began experimenting with different milk combinations.
“People realized it was an awesome food,” says Leslie Uhl, cheesemonger at DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia. “It’s the artisanal version of, ‘how can I express myself in different ways?’”
Cow’s milk is the base ingredient in most mixed-milk cheeses, with sheep and goat added for texture and flavor according to the desired final product. Goat’s milk whitens the cheese, as cow’s milk has a yellowish hue, and adds zest and tartness. Sheep’s milk is the most expensive of the three and is high in fat, adding richness and a buttery texture. It is often said that, the more sheep’s milk, the better the cheese.
Some cheesemakers will still mix milk as a work-around for seasonal availability, but mixing is often about taking creative license and challenging the existing varietal standards. Here are some examples of mixed-milk cheeses that will give your palate a lot to think about:
Testun Al Barolo (pasteurized, cow-goat, Italy)
Don’t be fooled by the initial mildness in the paste of this semi-firm cow-goat mix. The cheese hails from Piedmont and is aged in oak barrels under a layer of Nebbiolo grapes, the grape used to make Barolo wine. The sweet, crunchy grape husks form the rind and seep into the cheese, and the goat elements add funk to the sweeter cow milk. The result is a complex, moist, boozy, and fruity hunk that pairs best with a Barolo.
Chebris (sheep-goat, France)
This semi-firm cheese comes from the Basque region of southern France. Unlike most Basque cheeses, which are made purely of sheep’s milk according to strict regulations affecting how the animals are pastured and how the milk is treated, this Chebris mixes sheep with goat’s milk for a nutty, herbal flavor. The paste is slightly grainy, tangy, and musty with a sweet rind.
Nancy’s Camembert (pasteurized, cow-sheep, New York)
This rich, velvety cheese deviates from the norm by mixing sheep and cow milk in a Camembert, which is traditionally made solely from cow milk. It is named after its co-owner Nancy Clark, who founded the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in the Hudson River Valley with her husband Tom in 1993. Nancy’s Camembert is made using a blend of Old Chatham sheep and cow’s milk from a neighboring farm. It’s soft, bloomy rind fuses with the rich, oozing, buttery paste, for a fungal but sweet flavor. This cheese is savory and vegetal with notes of hay that set it apart from many other Camembert varieties, which air on the fruity side.
Photos by Rachel Wisniewski