Nomadic Sheperd Cheese Info

The History of Mixed Milk Cheese

The mixed milk cheese is an old tradition as well as historical approach to cheesemaking. It developed at a time when dairy was very Nomadic and a true mix of animals. The Shepard would collect a mix of animals, sometimes their own herds and sometimes a collection of several herds from different owners in a village. The milk from all animals is most often combined and made into a single cheese.

Effectively goats and sheep were easier to manage and worked well together.

Goats are browsers and they love grass, brush, leaves, trees and shrubs while sheep are grazers and prefer grass and broad leaved plants. Usually none of them will compete for the same food.

Traditionally this was a Nomadic way of life where the shepard and family moved their abode with the herd but today I see a Semi-Nomadic program where the herd is based in a small village or farm and the shepard moves the herd to best grazing land daily.

I still see this today in western Spain where the dry arid land precludes much beyond the grazing of sheep and goats. Here there are vast stretches of land they call the ‘Dehesa’ that are reserved as Pastoral highways and grazing plains.

Also in Spain I see the villagers in the mountains Grazzalema (a National Park) bring their goats to the edge of the small villages in the morning and release them to roam into the mountains on their own for forage. Then in the evening, a whistle or yell would bring them back for evening and morning milking when they were released again to roam the wilds… no fences. Every cheesemaker seemed to make a different cheese as well.

In Piemonte Italy it was usually a dedicated shepards role to find the best place for pasture and browse after the morning milking and to spend the day there with the herd.

With this type of cheese I also find that the production is hardly ever of large or commercial scale. It is mostly handwork done in small and very ancient pots often over wood fire as seen below with me visiting a friend Camillo in the mountains of norther Italy. The weights are often large stones and the cheese always unique to that producer. The mix of milk there is from the ‘Bruna-Alpina’ Cow and a very unique local ‘Orobica’ goat

The resulting cheese are usually quite unique from farm to farm. A few years back a couple of friends returned from the Grazzalema area of Spain with 200 lbs of cheese in their LUGGAGE (dont even ask about the customs story) from 8 different producers. No two of these cheeses was alike but all seemed to represent the people herds and places from which they came (by the way the 200 lbs of cheese disappeared within 2 hours when they divided it up).

Today we still find the mixed milk herds and production in many parts of Europe, Africa, and the middle East.