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Hoping for More

Planet Cheese - August 7, 2020 - 11:00am

For me, the life-changing cheese from the four Cheese O’Clock tastings I did in May with Laura Werlin was Shepherd’s Hope. I could not get enough of this moist, tender sheep’s milk wheel. I inhaled it. And then wanted more. Shepherd’s Hope would be a staple in my fridge—alongside the feta and the pecorino romano—if only I could get my hands on it easily. But Shepherd’s Way Farms, the Minnesota producer, is small, with limited distribution. Fortunately, if you would like to try this completely original and addictive cheese, I know where you can find it.

Shepherd’s Hope is one of three cheeses featured in the “American Originals” Victory Cheese Box, one of a dozen Victory Cheese collections I have curated for online merchant igourmet. So, in addition to Shepherd’s Hope, you receive Vella Mezzo Secco, an aged cow’s cheese from California; and Chandoka, a Cheddar-like cheese from a blend of cow’s and goat’s milk made by Wisconsin’s LaClare Family Creamery. All three are superb or I wouldn’t have chosen them, but Shepherd’s Hope is the one I want to eat every day, especially in summer.

The best description I can come up with is that Shepherd’s Hope resembles a very fresh and barely salted feta. It is rindless, open in texture and so moist from retained whey that it drips. Still, you can slice it. It doesn’t have the briny flavor of feta but it does have a buttermilk-like tang. Cheesemaker and creamery co-owner Jodi Ohlsen Read says the cheese is ready to eat the day after it’s made but will last in its packaging for eight weeks, becoming softer and tangier with time.

Sheep pros: Jodi Ohlson Read and Steven Read

She makes it by hand in small batches, 90 gallons or less at a time, from the milk of her own flock. Her husband, Steven, is the shepherd, and their adult sons help out when they’re around. She cuts the curds large so they hold onto moisture, scoops the soft cubes into round forms and lets them drain, flipping them occasionally so the curds drain from their own weight. Within a few hours, they knit together and she can unmold them. “It is remarkable how quickly they become wheels,” says Read.

The wheels are packaged the following day and sold largely at farmers markets and, at least pre-pandemic, to restaurants. She makes a 3 ½-pound wheel and a 1-1/4-pound mini wheel that’s easier for retailers to sell quickly. The piece in the Victory Cheese collection is about a half-pound.

Most fresh cheeses are spoonable, but Shepherd’s Hope has a tender custard-like texture. Read says chefs use it on pizza (“it melts very gooey,” says Read), or in place of mozzarella in insalata caprese. She like it with roasted vegetables; in a galette with caramelized onions; and in panzanella (tomato-bread salad), which I will try as soon as my garden delivers more than one tomato a day.

“I use it anywhere I would use feta but want something creamier and less salty,” says the cheesemaker. She also enjoys it for breakfast with dark berry jam.

The cheese is named for a neighbor—a Mr. Hope—who sold the couple their farm. But Read says the name also refers to the hope that shepherds cling to as they work through the year’s many challenges. Minnesota winters on a sheep farm can’t be easy.

You can find Shepherd’s Hope in the “American Originals” Victory Cheese Box on igourmet; at Smallgoods Cheese in La Jolla, CA; at Lunds/Byerly’s and the Co-ops in the Twin Cities; and at the Shepherd’s Way Farms online store.

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