Lately, I've had a thing for aged sheep's milk cheeses. Their nutty profiles pair well with stone fruits (cherries, apricots), and they're perfect to serve on a muggy evening alongside a glass of white wine. Most sheep's milk cheeses I see in stores are European imports -- Manchego, Idiazabal, Abbaye de Belloc. Back in May, though, I tasted the best aged American sheep's milk cheese I've ever eaten: Dante.
Dante comes from the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Coooperative (WSDC), reputedly the largest sheep dairy in the U.S. The milk is gathered from just over a dozen small farms, and the cheese is made by hand. The same dairy also produces one other cheese, Mona, a mixed-milk wheel. Dante is 100% sheep's milk, hormone-free.
Many sheep's milk cheeses tend to have a mild flavor profile; their soft notes take time to develop on the tongue. To my mind, they're like acoustic music -- gentle and nuanced without the electric twang of, say, a farmhouse cheddar.
Dante, however, is a bit amped. There's a pronounced sheepiness that I love, along with toasted nutty riffs that bring to mind marcona almonds. It has more chutzpah than your average Manchego, but not as much sweetness as Idiazabal -- two Spanish beauties that would be fun to try alongside Dante, if you wanted to put on some Peter, Paul, and Mary and enjoy a sheep's milk trio.
With its earthy, salty notes, Dante would be a great match for hard cider. A glass of Cava pairs well, too.
Tenaya Darlington blogs about cheese at Madame Fromage.