I love sheep’s milk cheeses — from manchego to Roquefort, Serra da Estrela to Italian robiolas. They’re rarer than cow or goat milk cheeses because the average yearly lactation period for sheep is much shorter than that of cows or goats, and they produce a much smaller quantity of milk per day of lactation. But what sheep’s milk cheeses lack in availability they make up for in flavor: Bold, opulent, buttery and often tangy, these cheeses do not disappoint.
One of my newest go-to sheep’s milk cheeses is Ledyard, a fudgy, creamy cheese made at Meadowood Farms. Founded in 1910 in Cazenovia, New York, Meadowood is now a 225-acre farm and dairy where 50 Belted Galloway cows (also known as “Oreo cows” due to their black-white-black striped pattern) and 135 East Friesian ewes graze. The cows are raised for beef and the ewes are raised for lamb as well as milk for cheeses.
All of Meadowood’s farmstead cheeses are handmade by Veronica Pedraza, who has been there since 2012. Pedraza was a cheesemaker at Jasper Hill and Sweet Grass Dairy prior to working at Meadowood, and she spent time as a monger at the celebrated Saxelby Cheesemongers in New York as well. She has an incredibly well-rounded knowledge of cheese, which is matched only by the passion and energy she brings to her craft. She once told me she needs to be in the right frame of mind to make great cheese, so she’ll put on a James Brown record to give the cheese a healthy dose of funkiness. We’re talking about one cool lady!
Pedraza makes Ledyard between roughly May 1 and October 31 due to the seasonal supply of sheep’s milk. The milk is first gently pasteurized and set into forms, then each form of young cheese is wrapped in three grape leaves that have been soaked in Deep Purple, a pilsner-type beer brewed by Empire Brewing and made with New York state-grown grapes. Ledyard is made in groups of 320 cheeses at a time — tiny batches by any standards of cheese production.
As the cheese matures, a creamy outer layer is formed and the so-called “animal” flavors characteristic of sheep cheeses get toned down. The cheese develops a nice herbal sweetness, but still packs a ton of flavor. If you like a bit more punch, look for a cheese that’s been aged a bit longer.
I had my cheese-loving pals Brad and Mere over for an early-evening bite and we enjoyed Ledyard with a 2014 Russian River chardonnay from Rock Wall Wine Company. The wine’s bright hints of apple and tropical fruit contrasted well with the fudgy texture and barnyard flavor of the cheese. Served with toasted baguette, olives, and pickled cherries, the cheese was the centerpiece of a decadent mini-feast. To honor the cheesemaker, we turned on some James Brown to revel in great music, great company, and great cheese. A job well done, Mr. Brown.