Seasonality of cheese
- 30 August 2017
Every cheese has a time of year when it's at its best, whether due to the quality of grass, milking cycle of the animals involved, grazing patterns, maturing times, etc. this all affects the quality of the cheese but comes together at certain times of year to produce a higher quality of cheese. For example, Stilton is best in the early stages of winter after the cows have fed on the lush summer graph and the cheese has matured for a few months. This is why Stilton is so popular at Christmas.
Of course this doesn't mean that the cheese is not good at any other times of the year, it's just at its peak when it's in season and worth tasting when it is. We'll have a quick look through the seasons and suggest some cheeses to try for each.
Cheese is in Spring is about fresh flavours and young cheeses that don't need long maturation. The cow's, sheep and goats have likely been kept indoors over winter, feeding on grains or hay rather than grass and in Spring they are let out into the pastures to feed on fresh grass. This has a massive affect on the milk and therefore the cheese.
Some cheeses to try during Spring are Cerney Ash and Chabichou, both delicious soft goats cheeses, Fosse Way Fleece and Ossau Iraty, ewe's milk cheeses from Somerset and The Pyrenees respectively. For cow's milk have a try of Brillat Savarin or Finn, by Neal's Yard Dairy. These are cheeses that either have a short maturation time or began maturing at the end of the previous when the grass was still rich and wholesome.
Summer milk is the best milk of the year as the animals are outside grazing on lush, fresh grass and this is only a good thing for cheese. There is a wonderful variety of cheeses peaking in the summer too. You have the choice of some beautiful blue cheeses that have been ageing since early spring with Bath Blue a delicious option, aged for between 8 and 10 weeks, fresh cheeses such as Mozzarella benefit from the finest possible milk and are at their best in the summer. You can also look out for cheeses that are matured for around 12 months as they will have been made using the quality milk from the previous summer. Westcombe Cheddar is a good example and won the 'Best Cheddar' award at the 2017 British Cheese Awards.
Autumn is when the first of the semi-mature cheeses made with Spring milk can begin to be enjoyed. Pennard Ridge Red is very good around the beginning of Autumn, as are some of the shorter matured blues. It's also a good time to eat mature cheddars that are aged for over a year as it's when many of them are at their peak. We really enjoy Vintage Lincolnshire Poacher in Autumn as we pick those cheeses that are around 2 years old and made towards the end of the summer.
We also enjoy Winslade in the Autumn as we build up towards Vacherin Mont d'Or season as it gets us in the mood for the exciting Winter cheeses.
Winter is a really exciting time in the cheese world. Not only is it when the superb Vacherin Mont d'Or returns to our cheese counter but also when warming meals such as raclette and fondue become the norm. It's hard to beat boiled potatoes smothered in melted Raclette with pickles and ham on the side.
Another great Winter cheese is the Christmas classic, Stilton. Produced in the Summer, but its peak arrives in December when the optimum maturation time is reached. This is the period when Stilton really is at its best.
Of course there are many more cheeses that taste great in particular seasons and you should really try them all at different times of year to experience the differences seasonality can produce.