Stock expansion and management tweaks are on the cards for a couple of Waikato dairy sheep farmers coming to the end of their milking season.
Dr Abby Thompson, food innovation manager at the Riddet Institute, Palmerston North, and her team at the conference handed out samples of sheep milk products. These included yoghurt and several ice-cream varieties that proved popular with attendees.
Thompson, a food scientist, says most consumers will choose a sheep milk product on the basis of its taste, wholesome heritage and because it’s a ‘bit different’ – a neat product.
“Sheep milk products fit the idea of food culture or heritage that is becoming increasingly popular around the world,” she told Rural News.
“An example is the slow food movement: enjoying our food, taking pleasure in it and appreciating what has happened to bring it to our table – including the farmers milking the sheep and people transforming it into ice-cream or cheese.”
She perceives an image problem for sheep milk products in New Zealand: they are not what many consumers would instinctively associate with great tasting, good quality food. So for a sheep milk industry to succeed, most of its products would be for export – a view shared by most attending the conference.
On developing sheep milk products, Thompson says there are “science challenges”.
“The higher levels of protein mean that there are potential precipitation issues when you freeze or heat the milk. But on the other hand, the increased levels of fat and protein means there is effectively ‘less water’ in sheep milk than in cow milk, enabling you to take the milk straight from the sheep and make it into thick creamy yoghurts and beautiful gelatos without having to add extra cream.”
A food product must simultaneously appeal to the consumer’s heart, tongue and head.