Have you ever wondered what it means to buy cheese that’s in season? Cheese is not unlike vegetables or fruits in that it has its own designated time of the year for optimal tastiness. Fresh cheeses especially should be purchased in regards to the season, particularly cheeses made from goat’s and sheep’s milk.
There are two main factors that should be considered when determining if a cheese in season: what type of animal the cheese comes from and the length of the animal’s typical lactation period. Sheep lactate for approximately eight months after breeding, while goats lactate for approximately eleven months. Since animals tend to breed around the same time as the rest of the herd, this leaves dairy farmers with a few milk-less months of the year. During this time, fresh cheeses are still being made, but it’s not with fresh milk. Instead cheesemakers use powdered milk or frozen curds to make their product, which adds an extra level of processing to the cheese and can take away from the flavor.
Cow’s milk is an exception when trying to determine the freshness of a cheese. Not only do cows have a much longer lactation period of thirteen months, they have also been domesticated to produce milk year-round, meaning that fresh cow’s cheese made from fresh milk will always be available. However, there is one more important factor when it comes to seasonal cheese, and that is how the climate and time of year affects the taste.
The richness of flavor in a cheese depends on what the animal is eating. What the animal is eating depends on the season. In the spring and summer, the grass is fresh and wildflowers are plentiful. This fresh greenery adds noticeable flavor and complexity to the animal’s milk that becomes even more prevalent when that milk is turned into cheese. This complexity is lost in the winter when the grass drys out and animals stick to hay and silage. The easiest way to understand this concept is to step in the shoes (or hooves) of the animal itself. If you were a goat, which of the following is more appealing? Grazing in the winter, eating nothing but dry hay and silage…
grazing in the summer when green grassy fields are overflowing with fresh and yummy wildflowers? It’s a pretty easy decision, isn’t it?
The best time to buy and eat fresh goat or sheep cheese is between the months of March and October, but if you live in a warm climate and the cheeses are locally made, you might be able to find good fresh cheese for a litter longer. Buying seasonal milk also goes for aged cheeses and only requires a little bit of math. For example, if you’re buying a cheese that has been aged for six months, you only need to figure out what the season was six months ago. Of course, the easiest thing to do is ask your local cheesemonger! Good cheese shops typically buy and sell cheese at their optimal ripeness and will be able to tell you more about whatever cheese you’ve got your eye on.Feature Photo via Upcoming