Sheep milk industry growing in NZ as foodies explore its products
More foodies are developing a taste for sheep milk products, says Massey University expert Craig Prichard.
Over the past year sheep milking growth had been been historic in food terms, said the Massey University associate professor who was the organiser of last week's Sheep Milk New Zealand conference.
"We celebrated the launch of a new sheep's milk icecream, new yoghurts and inventive new cheeses that are finding their way to lovers of extraordinary foods," said the long time supporter of sheep milking.
He said last year marked the registration of New Zealand's first distinctive sheep milking breed and five new sheep milk producers had come on line to bring the number of sheep milked in New Zealand to 33,000.
"However if 2016 was historic, 2017 could be breathtaking. We are likely to see a leap in consumer attention to our foods both onshore and offshore. We are likely to see two large scale sheep dairying farms spring into action and new farming systems innovations trialled throughout New Zealand."
Prichard said he thought the sheep milking industry had "plateaued out a bit".
"I think that could be a good thing because I would hate to see people get [too] excited about sheep milk. It is a long road, and there are big challenges there. It is time to put the focus on genetics and food."
He said the industry needed to work with New Zealand's top chefs and have them use products to get them better known and used more widely.
"New Zealand is importing new sheep milk genetics from Europe so we are doing the traditional thing of improving the productivity."
Prichard said most consumers still thought sheep's milk was novel and industry people wanted it more established in food and dishes.
"New Zealand produces some amazing sheep milk cheeses. I think when we find out what our particular strengths are we will produce a cheese that will rival others around the world."
He said different regions produced different tastes.
"Regionality is extremely important. There is a producer in Nelson, he came on the market this year and produces some really distinctive flavours in the cheese and yoghurt. There is a new group emerging in the Wairarapa region and their product will be really exciting.
"And then there is a Central plateau, which we haven't thought about as a milk producing region. The science is telling us more, and we are tasting the product from the regions."
He said the sheep milk industry could use the "regionality" and seasonality of sheep milk products to its advantage.
"Kingsmeade Artisan Cheese produce incredible cheeses in Wairarapa from their soils, water and the climate. That's regionality and that's what the chef, Marc Soper from Wairarapa is talking about."
He said three large producers in New Zealand were pushing hard to get production up, and profits back to the farm through local and export markets.
Prichard said last week's three-day conference was an opportunity to build and develop working relationships, plan new projects, secure deals and recognise success.
Sheep milk producers would learn from others and share the load of what the industry was undertaking, he said.
They could also find out about developments in other parts of the world.