Sunday, November 7, 2010

Delicious SHEEP Cheese!

I had a wonderful adventure yesterday attending the Ohio Dairy Sheep & Milk Initiative Symposium! I was there as a representative of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, and I greatly enjoyed it! In recent years, interest in dairy sheep has begun to grow in the United States. Throughout the world, sheep are often used as dairy animals, but in America we tend to consider them as fiber & meat animals. They can, however, be prolific producers of milk, which can then be used for delicious cheeses.

I first became aware of sheep cheese a few years ago, while shopping at my friend Said's market. His store offered an amazing Bulgarian-made sheep cheese, that was particularly good crumbled on a salad. Having had this enjoyable experience with sheep cheese, I was delighted to have the opportunity to be involved with the Dairy Sheep Symposium! The Ohio Sheep Improvement Association works to promote all sheep-related products, while offering education for farmers, and informing political leadership about agricultural needs. Thus, while the director of OSIA was attending the Make It Yourself With Wool Contest to support the fiber production of sheep, I got to attend a meeting promoting the dairy abilities of sheep!

The Dairy Sheep Symposium was held up in Wooster OH, which is a fascinating community. Wooster, in Wayne County, sits in the middle of beautiful agricultural land. This rich soil has encouraged large conventional farms as well as specialized niche operations. In addition, Wooster is the home of The Ohio State University's Agricultural Technical Institute (which hosted the Dairy Sheep Symposium) and the Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center. Several of my student assistants have studied at ATI, so I have a connection to the college through my visits there to my kids.

Wooster is about two hours from the Farm, so it was an early morning for me yesterday! My dog was a bit baffled as to why she was leaving her comfy bed to be put outside on her lead at 6:30am, but I stressed to her the importance of promoting the sheep industry! The drive to Wooster is an easy one, and passes by scenic farmland along Route 30. I was a bit surprised to encounter snow falling the closer I got to Wooster, but fortunately it did not stick!

The event was well-attended, which definitely illustrated interest in the potential for sheep dairies! There were speakers on many facets of this niche market: a researcher on dairy sheep, a farmer from Virginia that raises dairy sheep, and experts on nutrition & grazing. I manned a table to promote the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, which is sponsoring its annual Buckeye Shepherd Symposium in December. The Shepherd Symposium will be held at ATI this year, so it was a natural fit to encourage the attendees of the Dairy Sheep Symposium to return to the same location next month for even more opportunities to learn about sheep!

After departing the event, I took time to stop by Local Roots in Wooster. Local Roots is a market that promotes locally raised & made products. There was great community support for farm markets in Wooster over the years, but those were seasonally limited. Thus, a group of individuals came together to find a standing location where farmers could offer their items for sale throughout the year. A non-utilized county building was converted to a marketplace. Farmers can join for a fee to sell their products and shoppers can join for a fee to purchase at Local Roots, or a donation of time working at the market can fulfill this requirement. After hearing about Local Roots, I was very excited to see it. There was a bounty of local products, and this marketplace fulfills a true need of connecting farmers with those who wish to source locally raised items.

With all the fun of my trip to Wooster, the highlight remained the delicious sheep cheese that was served at the Dairy Sheep Symposium! Thin slices of a flavorful cheese, along with fresh grapes & apples . . . marvelous! Looking for sheep cheese in Columbus? I would like to suggest Al Safa Market at the corner of Trabue & Fisher on the west side of town. Take 70 west and exit at Fisher Road, turning north on Fisher. The next major intersection is Trabue Road, and Al Safa Market sits in a small strip of stores on the corner. Ask Said for some of the delicious sheep cheese and tell him that Kayt sent you!

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