Get the answer, plus other cow, sheep, and goat milk musings, after the jump.
1 pound of cheese requires 10 pounds (or about 5 quarts) of cow or goat milk and about 6 pounds of sheep milk.
But why does the quantity of milk for one pound of cheese vary among cows, goats, and sheep? Cheese is made up of curds, that is, the solids in milk. Milk solids are made up of fat. Simply speaking, sheep milk is fattier, so there's a higher proportion of fatty, curd-producing solids in the milk, so not as much milk is required to make the same amount of cheese. Goat milk tends to be the lowest in fat of the three milk types, while cow milk varies greatly depending on the breed, but generally falls somewhere between the fat content of goat and sheep milk.
Consider another difference among the three milk types: you'll only see that rich, thick layer of fat-filled cream rise to the top of cow milk. This signifies that the milk is unhomogenized. Goat and sheep milk, on the other hand, is naturally homogenized, meaning that the fat globules in these milks are smaller and don't separate from the less-dense, water-based components in the milk. Most cow milk goes through a process of homogenization before it's sold, which fuses the cream with the milk for a totally emulsified liquid. The fact that cow milk is naturally unhomogenized explains why you can find cheeses made with part-skim cow milk. It's not so easy to skim the fat from goat or sheep milk.
And one more fact: it probably goes without saying that a cow, goat, or sheep has to give birth in order to produce milk. But did you know that while cows usually give birth to one calf at a time, it's not entirely uncommon for a sheep or goat to give birth to twins or triplets!
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Images: Nora Singley)