For most people, the image of milk is closely tied to cows, usually pictured in some bucolic landscape, a white coat with great black spots. But it’s not always like that, thankfully: not all cows are holstein-friesians, though this breed is the most widespread worldwide, usually raised in an intensive, industrial fashion.
When we talk of milk we should use the plural, milks, because there are lots of animal milks used: cow, goat, sheep, buffalo, and donkey, to name the types you can find on sale in italy. When we talk about the processing of milk into cheese, the question becomes even more intriguing.
As well as having different cheeses according to the animal milk used, there are dairy products whose uniqueness comes from the biodiversity of the pastures where the animals graze, from the processing techniques, and even from the breed of animal species. It’s an important aspect of biodiversity, because these animal breeds have been selected over the centuries by herders for their capacity to adapt to the lands they live in, to the available food, to the altitudes, to the community’s lifestyle… these characteristics are conferred to the milk they produce. If we lose those breeds and choose simply to raise a handful of the most “productive” breeds then we’re deliberately cutting off branches from the great tree of the animal kingdom, as well as all the flavors, aromas and colors of the products we make from their milks. Losing these local breeds means losing those animals who are best able to survive in difficult, marginal areas. There are numerous examples of cheeses that represent traditions, communities, places, pastures and their histories, and which are unthinkable without the milk of local breeds, sometimes unfairly considered lesser animals. Today we focus on sheep.