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Ewes Milked for Cheese Production in East Iceland

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Ewes Milked for Cheese Production in East Iceland

The family at Akurnes, a farm in Hornafjördur in southeast Iceland, is using the latest technology to renew ancient farming methods of fráfaerur (separating ewes and lambs in spring to milk the ewes) and then producing cheese from the ewe milk.

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From Hornafjördur. Photo by Geir Ólafsson.

“We were interested in making better use of the material that we have here at the farm for job creation. We have a large sheep farm and old mink houses that needed a purpose,” farmer at Akurnes Sveinn Rúnar Ragnarsson told Morgunbladid of how the idea for producing ewe cheese was born.

“One has to monitor the cheese production closely,” added his brother Helgi Ragnarsson. “It is a valuable product that one has to make the best possible use of.” He is a mechanic and created a milking stall for eight ewes inside one of the mink houses.

Helgi is also the cheese maker in the family. He consulted experts on the first Akurnes product, a blue cheese called Bredi with Roquefort mold from southern France.

The cheese was well received by consumers and quickly sold out. It was available in the local store in Höfn and the specialty store Búrid in Reykjavík. The production takes at least two months and the next cheeses are expected before Christmas.

Fráfaerur and ewe cheese production used to be practiced in Iceland but fell out of practice in the early 20th century, although the industry flourishes in other countries, including France.

Sveinn Rúnar said he believes ewe cheese production was discontinued in Iceland because it was labor intensive and farmers began placing more emphasis on meat production.

He and his fiancé, Ragnheidur Másdóttir, hold a BS degree in agriculture sciences and organize the breeding of the Akurnes sheep.

Currently around 30 ewes are milked two times a day. The milking ewes are just as obedient as dairy cows, Sveinn Rúnar said of when he fetches them from the pastures. The milk is frozen after milking and the cheese is produced over the winter.

“The ewes and lambs are quick to get over [the separation]. Sheep are social creatures and the ewes find company among each other just as the lambs do. It is similar as in the autumn when the lambs are taken away from the ewes,” Sveinn Rúnar stated.

The farmers prepared the ewe cheese production carefully before taking the first step. They examined whether the ewes could be milked without too much trouble and that a quality product could be made. Experience shows that it is possible, the brothers say.

The next step is to breed sheep with milk production in mind and increase the production capacity, which will take a few years. The brothers are interested in producing other types of cheeses in the future.

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