Italy is one of the most important countries in Europe for the production of sheep’s milk. In 2017, sheep’s milk production amounted to 4.274,308 quintals. In this scenario, Sardinia plays a primary role with almost 300 millions liters of milk supplied. In addition, Pecorino Romano plays an important role in Italy and in the European Union from a commercial and reputational point of view. Despite its strong presence and spread, Italy has many other high quality cheeses that place it among the leading countries in this industry. Italy has 14 sheep’s milk cheeses with Protected Designation of Origin and a production of 57,595 tons of cheeses.
Feta cheese is particularly known and of ancient production: a white cheese without rind, obtained from a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk, but also exclusively from sheep’s milk. It is produced throughout Greece, but only the one produced in the continental area and the islands of Mytilene and Lemno is so called.
Despite Feta cheese hogs the limelight, the production of cheese in Greece is very varied, rich in local traditions and techniques, as well as in milk made from animals, mainly sheep, but also goats and cows, grazing freely. Greece has 17 sheep’s milk cheeses with Protected Designation of Origin and a production of 125.000 tons of cheeses.
With several centuries of tradition, Spain is among the largest producers of cheese, which is also highly appreciated and consumed nationwide.
Cheese production is a tradition handed down from generation to generation and each cheese has its own characteristic taste and is prepared with different flavours, aromas, textures and colours. The production techniques used and the duration of the process vary from area to area, depending on local customs and the desired consistency.
Spain has 9 sheep’s milk cheeses with Protected Designation of Origin and a production of 65.544 tons of cheeses.
French cheeses, together with the Italian ones, are among the most famous and known. The French dairy tradition is certainly very strong and represents an important value, also in trade. It is estimated that more than 500 different cheeses are produced in France.
Until the beginning of the century, the production of cheese was exclusively homemade; then, with the advent of industry, they had the need to regulate the market without preventing the spread of industrial products, which have the undoubted advantage of cost and availability and, at the same time, preserving the home production, an invaluable heritage to be protected.
Thus, the French, like the Italians, have differentiated their production and established a quality certification, the AOC (Appelation d’Origine Controlée). France has 3 sheep’s milk cheeses of Protected Designation of Origin and a production of 26.448 tons of cheeses.
Portugal has a tradition of sheep farming used for the production of meat, milk and wool.
Sheep’ milk in Portugal is used only for cheese production and can be processed into cheese by farmers, small family businesses or the dairy industry. In general, in the North of the country, the vast majority of farmers turn their milk into cheese. In the South, only about 25% do that (70% sell their milk to cheese producers, traditionally called “rupeiros”).
There are four types of cheeses made from sheep’s milk using the same technology, which have been gradually adjusted to local conditions. These are Serra de Estrela, Serpa, Azeitao and Castelo Branco, which now have their production boundaries (regional decree no. 49/86, although the controlled quality system has not been implemented yet). Niza and Evora are two other types of cheese, although they are less important and quite different from the former. Portugal has 7 sheep’ milk cheeses with Protected Designation of Origin and a production of 11.434 tons of cheeses.