Sheep Cheese

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This podcast features part 2 in our audio tour of LoveTree Farmstead Cheese, out of Grantsburg, Wisconsin. Did you know that most of the USA’s 44 sheep dairy operations are in the Upper Midwest and Northeast? They’re in northwestern Wisconsin, east central Minnesota, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Rugged country. Rugged sheep.
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In fact, that hardiness is one of the characteristics LoveTree owners Mary and David Falk have sought in the selective breeding they’ve done for 22 generations of their Trade Lake Sheep. The other qualities they’ve pursued are high quality, high butter fat milk, and good quality lamb meat.

Sheep came to North America on Columbus’ second voyage, in 1493. Those animals were used for meat. The early colonists used sheep for wool and home-made textiles, and secondarily for meat. Milking sheep is a fairly recent development in the States. In fact, the first US diary sheep operations were recorded in the mid-1980s, and that was with non-dairy breeds. Diary animals came into the US, by way of Canada, in the early to mid-1990s.

Although the sheep populations across the US have declined dramatically since 1946 – from a high of over 56 million in the 40s to just over 6 million today – the dairy segment offers lots of hope. A recent report by the National Academies says that there is an increase in the high-quality cheeses being made on these farms. The 2008 report is called “Changes inthe Sheep Industry in the United States.” And it goes on to say – that for the dairy industry to continue to develop, there need to be advancements in sheep genetics to improve the dairy sheep traits.

This brings us right back to LoveTree Farm, where Mary and Dave have worked to improve their sheep for nearly 20 years. The results? Sheep that laugh in the face of brutal winters, that build both milk and meat from grazing alone, and which produce high butterfat milk influenced by the seasonal grasses and flowers. And the cheese? Well, the couple were named 2002 Artisan of the Year by the Food Network and Bon Apetit. Their farm-made raw and pasteurized cheeses have also won numbers of prizes in American Cheese Society competition.

So where to buy these great cheeses? You can find Mary at the St. Paul’s Farmers Market, St. Paul, Minnesota every Saturday morning. But if you can’t make that trip, you can buy online by going to their website.

I hope you enjoy my visit with Mary and Dave. My next show will feature a last, quick chat with Mary about the special dogs she uses to protect her flock from coyotes and wolves. These are not herding dogs. They’re guardian dogs that tip the scales at up to 150 pounds! We’ll also hear from caterer and cookbook author Jim McCaffrey. He’ll talk about the artisinal pizza and bakery he’ll be opening in Decorah, Iowa this fall.

Till next time, eat well, eat thoughtfully. And, if at all possible, eat locally.