9 cheeses not made from cow's milk
Milk from sheep, goats and buffalo is used to make some of the most delicious cheeses in the world.
Have you milked your buffalo lately?
We often associate dairy with cows, and it's a fair association: Cow's milk is the source for the majority of dairy products. But it's becoming more common to see gourmet products from the milk of other mammals, including buffalo, goat and sheep. And not to worry: Most of these that we describe below are simple to find in your local supermarket. Better yet, consumers are reporting that some of these alternative cheese products are easier and gentler on their stomachs than conventional dairy. People who are lactose intolerant may find they can still tolerate goat's and sheep's milk cheeses. If you're thinking of expanding your dietary palate, then this might be the way to go.
But where do you start? Here's a handful of ideas, for those of you who are new to the (cheese) block:
Feta cheese is a staple of Greek cuisine. (Photo: Robyn Mackenzie/Shutterstock)
Did you know that real feta cheese is not from cows? Feta is an aged, crumbly and satisfyingly salty cheese normally made from sheep's milk, goat's milk or a combination of the two. It's a staple of any Greek cuisine, perfect for crumbling over salad or inside a pastry like spanakopita. You may see cow's milk-based versions of this cheese masquerading as real feta, but this is where it's important to read labels or get it straight from the horse's (or goat's, or sheep's) mouth. In Europe and beyond, you'll see the purest form of feta sold in blocks, and it'll be dry, crumbly and full of nooks and crannies.
Manchego cheese originates from Spain and is sold in several varieties according to maturity. (Photo: BigKnell/Shutterstock)
Manchego is a hard to semi-soft cheese originating from sheep's milk in the La Mancha region of Spain and an ancient tradition along the Iberian Peninsula. It's typically a firm cheese with a buttery texture. The distinctive zig-zag pattern you see on the rind is formed from grass molds. That, along with an official "D.O." (designation of origin) logo on the label, is how you know it's authentic queso manchego. There are several variations of this cheese, categorized by maturity. They tend to harden and become sharper with age. After three to six months of aging, you'll get Manchego Curado, which is a smooth yet interesting alternative to a slice of cheddar. Try it on your next chorizo sandwich or in a spicy Mediterranean breakfast!
Buffalo mozzarella is a cheese made from the milk of the domestic Italian water buffalo. (Photo: marco mayer/Shutterstock)
Traditionally, buffalo mozzarella is produced in the Italian provinces of Caserta and Salerno. Others around the world have tried, and failed, to replicate the taste and texture of this smooth, creamy and quintessentially Old World cheese. Must be something in the water – or maybe it's the uniqueness of that region's breed of water buffalo. According to the New York Times, "these are not the big, brown, wild, hairy bison of the American prairies; they’re the smooth, dark, curly-horned beasts you might expect to see in a documentary about rice farming in China." You might find cheese labeled "buffalo mozzarella," but that can sometimes be made with cow's milk. But you can purchase real, authentic mozzarella di bufala, especially in Italy. So what are you waiting for?
Lebbene cheese is a soft, yogurt-like cheese found commonly in Israel. (Photo: Viktoria Hodos/Shutterstock)
Lebbene is an creamy, super-soft Israeli yogurt cheese made most commonly from sheep's milk, but can also be produced from goat's milk. It's often sold in the shape of a golf ball, and stored in olive oil. Sometimes it's even mixed with za'atar. It makes a delightful spread on crackers, a dip for vegetables, and a perfect accompaniment to a Mediterranean breakfast or mezze (appetizer) spread. Boutique cheese makers across the Mediterranean sell it, and you're also likely to find it at your nearest natural grocer. But here's a secret: You can make a version of it at home, using this recipe.
Humboldt Fog goat cheese is an American original. (Photo: SharonaGott/Flickr)
West Coast artisan cheese makers at Cypress Grove Chevre created this goat's milk cheese in McKinleyville, California, and named it after the fog that forms over their Humboldt County home. What's that greenish-black line running down the middle, you say? It's mold, but don't be discouraged – that's how it ripens! As the cheese matures, more of the originally crumbly core softens, resulting in a cheese that's creamy, light and mildly acidic with a stronger flavor near the rind. It's sold online and in-house out of its original source, Cypress Grove Chevre, but you can also find it at several other artisanal cheese makers around the U.S. Try it melted over grilled mushrooms or as part of a veggie omelet.
Is that grilled chicken? Or one of Cyprus's greatest worldly contributions? (Photo: Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock)
When it comes to the world's best cheese, you can't stray too far from the Mediterranean. Halloumi (also spelled halumi) cheese is originally from Cyprus, a mixture of sheep's and goat's milk, and is popular in Greece, Turkey and Lebanon. In its traditional form, haloumi is unpasteurized and aged. The cheese is often used in cooking, and for good reason: it has an unusually high melting point, and retains its shape and texture at high heat. Fried halloumi cheese has crept up in some Mediterranean restaurant menus around the world, with a side of Kalamata olives or as a topping for salad. This is not your mom's grilled cheese – in fact, your guests might mistake it for grilled chicken.
Pecorino cheese is made from ewe's milk. (Photo: Rocco Lucia/Flickr)
Who makes this cheese? Ewe do!
Ahem. Pecorino is part of the quintessential family of Italian cheeses that many associate with hearty ristorante condiments. Only this cheese is made from ewe's milk. Several versions of this cheese are available, the most popular being Pecorino Romano, which you'll likely find next to the parmesan as you rummage through the cheese display at your local grocer. Other, lesser-known (but still delicious!) versions include Pecorino Sardo, originally from Sardinia; Pecorino Siciliano, from Sicily; and Pecorino di Filiano, from Basilicata. Pecorino Romano tends to have a saltier, sharper taste than parmesan, but both are great when sprinkled on pizza, mixed into lasagna or incorporated into virtually any Italian recipe you can imagine.
Tzfat cheese is a gourmet cheese in Israel that's made from sheep's milk. (Photo: Karaidel/Shutterstock)
Tzfat cheese is a semi-hard, salty Israeli cheese that's been produced in the ancient town of Tzfat since 1840. It was originally made from sheep's milk, but modern versions can sometimes include sheep's, goat's and cow's milk. Descendants of the original cheese makers, the HaMeiri family, still use the classic sheep's milk, which Meir HaMeiri says is what gives the cheese its unique texture and taste. The sheep are free range and hand-milked to the sounds of soothing music. The HaMeiri family factory is open to the public, offering tours and tastings as well as a history lesson on the surrounding town.
Roquefort is a French blue cheese that's sharp, smoky and characterized by green-blue veins. (Photo: Lu Mikhaylova/Shutterstock)
Roquefort is a French blue cheese that's made from the milk of the Lacaune breed of sheep. There's even a cute piece of folklore attached to it: A young boy, eating his lunch of bread and ewe's milk cheese, saw a beautiful girl in the distance, and abandoning his meal in a nearby cave, he ran to meet her. When he returned a few months later, his plain cheese had transformed into Roquefort, now characterized by its green-blue veins and soft, crumbly texture. Those veins add color and a distinctive appearance to the cheese, but they also provide a sharp tanginess that sets it apart from other blue cheese varieties. The cheese is best when eaten at room temperature with figs and nuts, or a piece of crusty French bread.
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