"You can't really just order it from the dairy producers," Toni Roberts said of sheep's milk. She had to send out several texts before finding a sheep farmer who lived near downstate Prairie Fruits Farm and was willing to send a gallon to Green City Market for her.
The milk is rich and creamy, with about twice the fat and protein of cow's milk; it's also higher in calcium and rich in vitamins and minerals. It's not widely consumed, though, accounting for just 1.3 percent of the world's milk production (cow's milk makes up 84.6 percent, followed by buffalo at 11.8 percent and goat at 2.1 percent). Most of what is produced is used for cheeses, including pecorino, Manchego, Roquefort, and Ossau-Iraty.
As for flavor, Roberts said, it's not radically different from cow's milk. "It's like having whole milk with a splash of half-and-half, and if you're really concentrating you can get a little bit of the funk that you would think of with a goat or sheep's milk. But I don't find it that much. It's just really nice, fresh, rich milk."
Roberts decided to make a push pop—a variation on the guava and coconut frozen creations she's planning to serve at Roof this summer. She started with a vanilla-rosemary ice cream (rosemary goes well with earthy flavors like the ones in sheep's milk, she said), noting that the fat content of the sheep's milk was so high that she didn't have to add any cream to the base—usually she'd use half milk and half heavy cream.
"One of my favorite flavor combinations is Creamsicle . . . the acid and the creaminess together," Roberts said. With that in mind, she made a pineapple sorbet as a second layer for the push pop. She cooked the pineapple down a bit first, utilizing a trick she'd learned recently: adding a little star anise gives the fruit a candylike quality—"like a pineapple Dum-Dum," she said.
The third layer was a pineapple sherbet with the same pineapple she'd used for the sorbet, combined with sheep's-milk yogurt. Roberts has used the yogurt before, in orange sherbet—"it gives it a really great texture"—and mixed with honey and spices as a sauce for pies and other baked goods. From the orange sherbet it was a natural leap to a pineapple version.
Tasting the finished sheep's-milk push pop, Roberts said, "You get this really rich vanilla-rosemary ice cream on the bottom, and then the candy pineapple flavor on top, so together it's a Creamsicle." If she had to do it again, she said, she'd probably add another layer for visual effect, like a rosemary sorbet or something with different textures. "I was thinking it'd be nice with really roasted down, chewy, candied pineapple in the mix."
Dave Ford of the Bluebird, working with strawberries and rhubarb. "If I know Dave Ford, he's probably going to add pork into the mix," Roberts said. "But I'm sure it will be delicious."
Vanilla bean and rosemary ice cream
32 oz sheep's milk
1 vanilla bean
1 rosemary sprig
4 oz sugar
10 egg yolks
Bring the sheep's milk, vanilla bean, rosemary, and sugar to a simmer. Remove from heat and steep for 10 minutes. Bring back to a simmer and temper in the egg yolks. Cook until thickened. Remove the rosemary sprig but not the vanilla bean and puree in a Vita Prep blender. Strain through a chinois and chill in an ice bath. Age overnight and process in an ice cream machine.
Pineapple sorbet and sherbet
2 pineapples, diced
1 t ground star anise
3 oz sugar
4 oz Greek yogurt made from sheep's milk
Heat a sautee pan until very hot. Add the pineapple, sugar and star anise. Cook over high heat, stirring, until juices are released and the pineapple softens. Puree in a Vita Prep until smooth. Blend 12 oz of the pineapple puree with the Greek yogurt to make the sherbet base. The rest of the puree is the sorbet base. Chill and process each separately in an ice cream machine.
Layer in push pop containers: ice cream first, sherbet, then sorbet. Freeze and serve.