Marie Abuhilal offers a sample of sheep cheese at the SLO downtown farmers' market.

Marie Abuhilal offers a sample of sheep cheese at the SLO downtown farmers’ market.

As patrons walk by her booth at the Thursday night farmers’ market in San Luis Obispo, Marie Abuhilal calls out to them like a carnival barker, offering free shaved samples of sheep’s milk cheese.

“We make it lactose-free!” she tells each person as she grinds samples of cheese into their hands. If her words don’t drive the point home, there’s a wooden cutout of a cartoon sheep propped up in front of her booth, a sign around its neck declaring, “Lactose Free.”

It’s still early so Abuhilal continues to set up her booth, placing photos of her sheep on her table near a feature published in the Fresno Bee about her farm, Chateau Fresno Organics.

French words and Fresno are associated even less frequently than sheep and milk. But Abuhilal’s not sheepish about her cheese — and how it can help the lactose intolerant.

“I have a lot of followers,” she says. “They can’t digest.”

Abuhilal, new to the Thursday night farmers’ market in San Luis Obispo, promises to help.

Her outgoing husband, Abe, who can often be seen at local farmers’ markets wearing a cheese head hat, is an agriculture consultant, who grew up in the Middle East and studied cheeses in Italy.

As the sign says, sheep cheese is easier to digest.

As the sign says, sheep cheese is easier to digest.

Sales of dairy sheep are less common than cows, largely because lambing requires more work than calving or kidding. And sheep yield less milk. Yet, sheep have actually been milked longer than cows.

Popular cheese made from sheep’s milk includes feta, ricotta and roquefort.

Still, you won’t see a lot of dairy sheep farms in the U.S. despite the benefits of sheep cheese: It’s highly nutritious and richer in certain vitamins and calcium than cow’s milk. It also has a higher proportion of short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which helps make them easier to digest.

With hundreds of sheep at the Chateau Fresno, there will be plenty of cheese to go around. And Marie Abuhilal will remain actively involved in the process.

“I milk the sheep myself,” she said.