Sheep's milk has a nutty, sweet-grassy flavor. It's not at all sheepish (hah) and that's why it's the basis of so many flavorful cheeses we love: feta, Manchego, Pecorino, and plenty more. But sheep's milk ice cream? Would the sheepy-ness overpower the vanilla bean, fresh mint, and other ice cream flavors?
Alexis Negranti and her husband Wade decided to find out when they bought a starter flock of sheep in 2011. As a kid, Alexis had raised sheep for 4-H and FFA but had zero experience milking dairy sheep. But after tasting many test batches, she found that sheep's milk, unlike goat's milk, isn't overpoweringly tangy; it has a natural nuttiness and earthy sweetness, making it a really nice base for ice cream.
Plus, sheep are just really cute. Alexis shamelessly admits that the fuzzy, fleecy creatures had something to do with Negranti Dairy, her small-batch ice cream endeavor. She now has over 60 ewes on her farm in central California.
"I joke that sheep's milk is the miracle milk," Alexis said. It's naturally 7% fat and therefore ultra creamy. It's higher in protein and richer in vitamins and calcium than cow's milk, plus it's a good option for lactose-intolerant folks and others with dairy issues.
Alexis sent us five flavors to try: Vanilla Bean, Peppermint, Black Coffee, Salted Brown Sugar, and Strawberry Basil. Some are more sheepy-tasting than others. The sheep's milk is very prevalent in the vanilla bean, salted brown sugar, and black coffee—first you taste the headlining flavors, then they fade into a gently grassy, barnyardy flavor. The whole spoonful of ice cream is robust from start to finish.
The Strawberry Basil and Peppermint are less sheep-intense. (Or, you could say they are more sheepish!) The Peppermint is extremely bright and refreshing, almost like sucking on a candy cane with all those mouth-tingling effects. The Strawberry Basil is also nicely balanced, with the sweet basil and jammy strawberries. You almost forget these two are even made with sheep's milk.
"I'm really impressed that she gets such a rich, dense Haagen Dazs-like texture without the use of eggs—and with even brighter flavors," said our resident ice cream expert Max between scoops.
Since starting the Negranti Dairy label a year ago, Alexis has been making everything on her farm but will be moving production to a slightly bigger facility soon, at a local creamery (that makes cheese) nearby Paso Robles.