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April 18-24, 2007

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News of the Food

Baa Baa Yogurt

By James Knight

We've all seen the boring admonition a thousand times: "Instead of sour cream, substitute yogurt for a low-cal alternative." But yogurt, that low-fat diet standby, that sugared-up supermarket slurry, is also vulnerable to the advancing forces of gourmet artisanship. Yogurt has another side. A richer, woollier side.

Bellwether Farms, Sonoma County's family-run sheep-milk creamery, is poised to release a sheep-milk yogurt. That's likely to pique interest, at the least because sheep are cute and woolly. And, as it turns out, there's more than novelty to sheep dairy products.

For all the reasons that goat has long been touted as the alternative milk, sheep milk is even better. It's higher in nutrients, protein and other solids. Although 50 percent higher in fat, the fat globules are smaller, almost "naturally homogenized," as Bellwether's co-owner and cheese maker Liam Callahan puts it. Sheep's milk may be tolerated by some people who can't digest other milk. And it's mild tasting, an incentive to those for whom fine goat products are just too . . . goatee.

For this to be available in our own backyard is rare, indeed. There are a handful of sheep dairies in the United States, mainly in the east. Bellwether has no samples yet on hand, but a cup of New York's Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. yogurt, found tucked away in a Whole Foods dairy case, proved to be rich indeed, with a distinct tanginess. It's said to be something like a Greek-style yogurt. Bellwether will make plain and vanilla, as well as natural fruit flavors with strawberry, blueberry, and blackberry preserves sourced from Oregon.

Look for Bellwether Farms yogurt some time later this month or in May. Because of the vagaries of nature, the Callahan's 200 ewes didn't lamb for three months, thus had no milk, so they are now busy restocking their San Andreas and Pupate aged sheep cheeses.

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