At some point in your life, you've probably wondered about the taste of sow's milk. Yes, sows—not cows.
That's not at all weird. We're merely used to consuming cow's milk, but there are also plenty of people that swear by camel's milk, ass milk, or fermented horse milk, which makes you feel tipsy. Whatever's clever.
In the Netherlands, we happen to have plenty of pigs—approximately 12 million. Pig farmer Erik Stegink of Piggy's Palace is a progressive farmer in Bathmen. He's no stranger to the news, having installed an old slide in his farm to ensure that his pigs would have fun jumping in the mud, and once organizing a fashion show amid the swine.
Nowadays, he's crafting a young cheese made of pig's milk in collaboration with cheese store Kloas in 't Hof. The world of pig milk is quite small. Apparently there's a modest farmer in Tuscany who makes "porcorino," and an American chef who's obsessed with pig's milk, but that's pretty much it.
Not wanting to miss an opportunity to write about cheese, I called up Erik Stegink while he was busy moving his sows.
MUNCHIES: Hey, Erik. So, how do you milk a pig? Erik Stegink: Well, that's not a simple task. Pigs produce less milk in comparison to cows: every two hours they release the milk for about 30 seconds so you have to be quick. Four of us were at it with coffee cups, and per time you only get about 100 milliliters. If you want to collect ten liters—which is needed for about two pounds of cheese—you're busy for at least 40 hours.
Will this make you rich? We don't think it'll be a hit, but you never know. For the first cheese that cheesemaker Erik made at in 't Hof, there's two liters of our pig's milk and eight liters of cow's milk. That said, I consider it to be nothing more than a whimsical product.
Why did you make it? Mainly because we enjoy doing it. Erik an I were curious whether or not it was possible because pig's milk is quite different than cow's milk. For example, it's richer in protein, which ripens the cheese faster.
Does it taste different than cow's cheese? If you taste it with your eyes closed, there are distinct differences with semi-matured cheese. We think it's a bit saltier and creamier. It dissipates quicker on your tongue and it's grainier. By the way, we didn't succeed right away. It's a completely different process and requires a lot of attention. Several of the wheels were unsuccessful and this is the first one we dared to eat. [laughs]
Is cheese made out of pig's milk a way to stay afloat for pig farmers in these difficult times? Staying afloat is undeniably difficult for pig farmers. Because of this we've been doing things quite differently for years now. Our pigs can walk outdoors. We make our own dried sausage, and sell them with things like spareribs and barbecue steaks in our own store.
What will you do with this one exclusive pig's cheese? Half of it can be sampled during a guided tour on the farm and the other half we want to auction off for a good cause. The cheese is too costly to put on the market in larger quantities, but with the cheesemaker we did experiment with another product: cheese with dried sausage. The test run of it was quite delicious, and currently more is being produced. The first cheeses are still in the brine, and in three weeks they will be for sale at the Bathmen fair. This cheese is easier to create so we are putting our faith into this one.
Thanks Erik, and good luck today.