Photos courtesy of Willow Pond Sheep Farm
A Hudson Valley sheep farm is behind some of the most luscious yogurt popping up at farmers’ markets in and around Westchester.
Growing up in Greenwich Village, Carrie Wasser dreaded the weekends her parents whisked her out of the city and “dragged” her upstate to their farmhouse in Gardiner. However, about two decades later, she moved into that house full-time, with her husband, Brent, and about 60 dairy sheep that roam the land (65 acres’ worth) and produce creamy, nutritionally dense milk that the Wassers began making into yogurt at the start of the pandemic.
“Sheep are the sweetest creatures,” she says. “They’re small; they’re precious. And when you raise dairy animals, they’re in your life for a long time, and you get to really know and understand the flock.”
Wasser admits she’s fallen “head over heels” for the sheep she can now recognize by face, but it’s Brent — a cheesemaker who studied food production in Europe before attending, then teaching, at the Culinary Institute of America — who collects their milk and turns it into yogurt by hand and in small batches.
Best compared with Greek yogurt, sheep’s yogurt is also thick, but “there’s a creaminess to it that you don’t get with Greek yogurt,” explains Wasser. “It’s pudding-like.” In addition, Greek yogurt is strained, accounting for some of its thickness, but “we don’t strain our yogurt, because you don’t need to. There’s so much fat and creaminess in the milk itself as it comes out of the sheep.” And since it’s also high in protein, Wasser says it’s filling, with a mild flavor and no gamey taste.
The milk is pasteurized, and nothing is added to it except cultures, which give it the same probiotic qualities of cow’s-milk yogurt. And while it does contain lactose, Wasser says it breaks down more easily in humans than lactose from cow’s milk.
At press time, Willow Pond Sheep Farm Yogurt was available locally at the Larchmont and Cold Spring farmers’ markets, and although the farm is not yet certified organic, the Wassers follow organic practices. “We don’t use antibiotics or chemical or synthetic fertilizer or pesticides,” says Wasser. “Our sheep are pasture-raised. They’re free to roam, and they eat fresh grass every day.”