New Zealand's sheep milking industry plateaued a bit in the last year, says an organiser of last week’s Sheep Milk NZ Conference 2017.
Marc Soper, executive chef at the prestigious Wharekauhu luxury lodge in Wairarapa, last week set up his demonstration kitchen at the annual sheep milk conference in Palmerston North, to show how he uses sheep milk products in meals he prepares for rich and famous guests.
About 150 people attended the three-day conference, which also included a day looking at Tararua and Wairarapa sheep milking and cheese making.
Soper says sheep milk’s low lactose content is a huge advantage. This enables him to create a panna cotta dish – which he demonstrated – with properties you cannot get with cow’s milk – a sweet, creamy, nutty after-taste.
Sheep milk products are versatile, said Soper, demonstrating this to attendees, a few of whom were lucky enough to taste his creations.
NZ-made sheep cheese, gelato and milk all featured in his recipes.
Soper mentioned his special relationship with Miles and Janet King of Kingsmeade Cheese, Wairarapa.
“I often drop into their shop and chat. I have been on the farm and see what they do and we talk about how we can improve the product for the benefit of the consumer, and I can use sheep milk products better as a chef. Collaboration works well.”
Soper has used sheep milk products for some time at Wharekauhau and diners there are “over the moon” about what they see and taste. Other chefs are now catching on, he says.
“Chefs are slowly getting it: the gate-to-plate movement of the past four to five years is getting stronger and stronger. People want to know where their food is coming from – the story.
“If you can tell the grassroots story of where it comes from it lifts the value of the product to a much higher scale.”