In exciting news, a Wisconsin dairy artisan is now crafting a fresh sheep's milk feta, and as usual, we have a chef and a slew of cheesemaker mentors to thank for it.
Farmstead Feta, made by Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery, is a fresh, farmstead sheep's milk feta that doesn't taste like any feta you've ever had. It has a creamy texture and less salty flavor than your classic feta -- it's very fluffy and dreamy. And it can be yours for upwards of $20 a pound at retail outlets such as Fromagination.
It's worth every penny, says every person I've seen taste it. The cheese itself was inspired by Chef Jack Kaestner of the Oconomowoc Club, who has been asking Brenda to make him a sheep's milk feta for months for use at his restaurant.
Brenda delivered. After a few mentoring sessions with Wisconsin cheesemakers Al Bekkum and Tom Torkelson, and the loaning of feta cheese forms from nearby K& K Cheese, Wisconsin can now add sheep's milk feta to the list of 600 varieties, types and styles of cheese now being made in the state.
I had the exceptional honor to visit Brenda at her farmstead cheese operation last Friday, where the raspberries are at full peak (I strategically stopped us near the patch for a quick interview and continuously ate berries at full speed while writing at the same time). The dairy sheep are just beginning to dry up for the winter before lambing again in January, so I was lucky to be there while she is still making cheese.
Brenda crafts her feta (along with her famous fresh Driftless cheese, Ocooch Mountain and Bad Axe) in a 200-gallon vat in a cheesrie she and her husband, Dean, built into the side of a hill across from their farmhouse. The 200-gallon vat is a big step up from her original 40-gallon vat, in which she had to use herself as the agitator (often stirring for 90 continuous minutes -- and I wonder where she gets her muscles?) She then packs the feta in five-gallon buckets and sells to a host of local retailers and chefs.
While the feta is just starting with local distribution, her other Hidden Springs cheeses are now available at Murray's Cheese in New York and the Cowgirl Creamery outlets in San Francisco and Washington D.C.
She says orders have really picked up in the last month since ACS -- where she won a jaw-dropping eight awards for her sheep's milk cheeses. She's now using ALL of her sheep milk production, plus purchasing ALL of a neighbor's sheep milk for her cheeses. And, she's planning on expanding -- she'll add 40 ewes next spring and her farmer is considering doubling his herd.
More sheep's milk = more sheep's milk cheese, and if you're a fan of Hidden Springs, that means more cheese in a store near you. Whoo-hoo!