Chow Town

Green Dirt Farm expands into sheep’s milk yogurt

Updated: 2013-06-23T01:18:37Z

By JILL WENDHOLT SILVA

Yogurt is getting a local spin.

Green Dirt Farm, maker of nationally award-winning cheeses, is currently rolling out its new sheep’s milk yogurt under its Only Ewe label. The new line is launching with a single flavor: plain.

I love Green Dirt’s sheep’s milk cheeses — which range from the fresh, spreadable cheeses that highlight the herbaceous flavors of the grass that the sheep graze on to the firmer washed-rind Bossa that gets better with a bit of age.

But the quality ingredients and care that Sarah Hoffmann puts into making those artisanal cheeses means they are too pricey for mass distribution or everyday consumption.

“Green Dirt Farm cheese is a special treat,” says farm manager Jacqueline Smith, “and we know it.”

So the small, women-owned farm located on a hill in picturesque Weston, Mo., has been testing their sheep’s milk yogurt at farmer’s markets since 2011.

Adding small-batch yogurt made on the farm allows Green Dirt to produce a unique, high-quality product at a lower price point ($2.49 per 6-ounce serving) while tapping into health-conscious consumers who in recent years have been moving to tarter, creamier styles of Greek yogurt for its cleaner taste, more luxurious texture and higher nutrition content.

Like much of America, I’ve increasingly gravitated to thicker, richer and more protein-packed Greek-style yogurts, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Only Ewe.

My first carton was a revelation: the ultra-creamy yogurt was tangy enough to make my mouth pucker, with a riotously sheep-y aftertaste.

But by the time my spoon had hit the bottom of the second carton sampled a day later I discovered my taste buds were acclimating, the clean, assertive flavor becoming smoother and rounder.

I sampled the yogurt straight up, with blackberries and with the slightest touch of locally made mango preserves (with a hint of vanilla) gently swirled in.

Smith started out adding a dollop of honey when she began eating sheep’s milk yogurt. Her 10-month-old son can eat a carton in one sitting. Sheep’s milk dairy products have long been popular in Europe and other parts of the world.

“American palates have been trained to eat yogurt that is sweetened artificially,” says Smith. Sheep’s milk yogurt “definitely pushes American palates forward.”

Smith describes straight sheep’s milk as naturally “very sweet,” similar to drinking vanilla bean ice cream.

The cultures used to turn the milk to yogurt add the tart twang. But in the end that’s all there is: sheep’s milk yogurt does not require artificial sweeteners, preservatives or stabilizers.

Plus the process for making sheep’s yogurt is more straightforward than making yogurt with other milks, particularly cow’s milk.

The sheep’s milk is poured into incubators and thickens to its naturally creamy consistency without having to drain further, an additional process required when making yogurt from cow’s milk.

At 10 grams of protein, sheep’s milk yogurt runs neck-in-neck with Greek yogurt, and it is high in healthy fats, vitamins and nutrients. Sheep’s milk is lower in saturated fats than other milk types and recent studies have shown that it contains more conjugated lineolic acid (a cancer-fighting fat) and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Many people who can’t tolerate cow’s milk yogurt can eat yogurt made with sheep’s milk.

Only Ewe is currently available at four Hen House supermarkets: Corinth at 83rd Street and Mission Road, in Prairie Village; Leawood at 119th Street and Roe Avenue; Deer Creek at 135th Street and Old Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park, and Tremont at Interstate 29 and Northwest 64th Street in Kansas City, North.

Meanwhile Green Dirt has plans to introduce flavored yogurts later this year.

Only Ewe is a collaboration between small farmers transitioning their flocks from conventional feeds to grass-fed. There are only 130 registered sheep’s milk creameries in the United States, Smith says, so there is huge potential to grow the industry.

Green Dirt is currently working with Amish farmers in northwestern Missouri and they intend to increase their milk supply by adding more small family farms.

“One of our main missions is to be ambassadors for the grass-fed movement so we can make a change in our food system without adding to the destruction of soil,” Smith says.

Yogurt is a step in that direction, but the long-term goal requires adding to popular demand with products such as kefir, ice cream and butter. When they hit 250 gallons a week, Smith and Hoffmann plan on expanding their creamery operations to Kansas City, Kan.

Jill Wendholt Silva is The Star’s James Beard Award-winning food editor and restaurant critic. She has won more than 25 national writing awards and been included in the “Best Food Writing” anthologies of 2008 and 2011. She is the author of The Star’s “Eating for Life” cookbook and the past president of the Association of Food Journalists. She also makes a mean flan.

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