Old World Tradition Meets Modern Day Shepherdess
By Leah Call | Photos By Jim Klousia 0
A visit to Hidden Springs Creamery is a journey for the senses. Green pastures and majestic trees rustle a welcome as you climb the steep road leading to this homestead creamery outside of Westby, Wisconsin. Sheep grazing in pastures lined with weathered wooden fencing look up lazily but don’t seem to mind your presence in their haven. The breeze blows gently through the trees, an Amish neighbor calls to his cows, and an occasional sheep calls to a lamb that’s wandered too far from its mother. It is peaceful here.
This is rural Southwestern Wisconsin at its finest, and it is home for artisan cheese maker Brenda Jensen and her husband, Dean. The Jensens shepherd over 200 East Friesian and Lacaune dairy sheep on their 76-acre farm, where Brenda is the woman behind a variety of creative cheeses made from sheep’s milk, an artisan trend on the rise in Wisconsin.
Wisconsinites are undoubtedly more familiar with cheese made from cow’s milk, but sheep’s milk cheese is thought by historians to precede that of its bovine counterpart. In parts of the Mediterranean, where the terrain is more suited to sheep and goats, the sharp, bold-flavored cheese has a rich history and is more of a staple in the warm-weather, seaside fare. Even here in Wisconsin, sheep’s milk is a cheese maker’s dream. The high fat and solid content—nearly twice that of cow’s milk—means a higher cheese yield; it has a smooth texture, similar to ricotta; and it is easy to digest. It can also be frozen and used later, something that is not possible with cow’s milk.
“It was a completely different side of me that got swept up in the emotion of it, making something from this wonderful milk,” says Brenda of the grip that cheese making has on her. “Not many people have had the opportunity to taste sheep’s milk cheese. I love it. I love the smell when I’m making the cheese, too.” Her joy can be seen in every gesture—the way she greets her sheep and carefully inspects the milking equipment, and in her obvious love for these animals and their trust in her to care for them. Her genuine love for this traditional art is contagious, and I find myself following her closely as she leads me around the farm like one of her beloved sheep.