Oh. Hey there. Didn’t think I’d see you back here again. Yes, I may have taken a two month hiatus from cheese blogging to conduct extensive research for my new book: “How Short Can I Make These Jean Shorts Before They Get Offensive?” (Answer: Really short…) but never fear. I HAVE RETURNED.
Ah, friends, it’s that time of year when Summer gives way to Fall. The constant uncomfortable hellish heat of August gives way to the gentle folds of warm September days and cool Autumn nights. You start fantasizing about your favorite striped wooly socks and begin thinking about things like cooking a hearty stew while wearing a turtle neck or drinking a bottle of red wine as you try to decide between eating chicken pot pie or just…drinking another bottle of red wine. The leaves change colors and the whiskey-enduced desperation of winter hasn’t yet arrived. I think Enya said it best, when she uttered the famous words: “if all you told was turned to gold // if all you dreamed were new // imagine sky high above // in Caribbean blue.”
Anyways, this change in seasons got me thinking about what sorts of new and exciting cheeses and flavors to expect this fall. And then I started thinking about the entire idea of a “seasonal cheese.” You see that phrase everywhere in the cheese world. But what does that exactly mean? Well, luckily, now that summer vacay is over and cheese academy is back in session, we can all learn together about why farmstead cheeses heavily depend on the rotation of the earth.
The three most important components of seasonal cheese are the following: what the animal is eating, when the animal is lactating, and how old the cheese is.
Alright, so go ahead and imagine a field. See. We are having fun already. Anyways, depending on what time of year we are in, this field goes through many different states. In the winter, the ground is covered in snow and is rock hard and not a whole lot is going on. All the little farm critters are packed away into barns and shanty lean-to’s (which is much more charming than it sounds…) and are getting fed bucket-fulls of grain and mountains of hay. The animals aren’t moving a lot and are basically sitting around, eating, and getting wicked fat. Why? Well, aside from the fact that many of these animals have brains the size of walnuts and would die if they were allowed to scamper out in the elements – the answer is two fold. One, animals instinctually try to eat fatty, high-caloric, rich foods as it gets colder in order to build up a layer of fatty protection from the elements. Think bears getting ready to hibernate or me getting ready to eat a whole ice-cream cake.
Two, the animals need to build up a fat reserve for the Spring when they start popping out baby animals left and right and need to feed the needy bastards. The richer the milk, the stronger the kids, so xyz, we’ve got constant Animal Farm Sizzler Buffet.
So things start to get more exciting once we move past winter. In the Spring, most animals start having babies (February is a busy month. And we aren’t talking snow ball fights and getting an early start on your taxes…) and start using that winter-time fatty build up to produce nutrient rich milk for their young. This also means that cheese makers are getting the richest, fattiest, most delicious milk for cheese. Also during this time, animals are getting turned out to pasture. The imaginary field is starting to grow grass and flowers and little wild herbs and it becomes one big Animal Farm Ruby Tuesday’s Salad Bar.
So, let’s review. The animals so far are making a lot of really rich milk for their babies and are also eating a lot of fresh, herbal grass. So, we start to see the beginning of the fresh cheese season. Mid-Spring, Summer, and early Fall are when farmers are able to show case their best fresh cheeses. The grasses are the heartiest, the animals are eating wild flora and fauna, and the milk is so good that is doesn’t have to age very long to get buttery and delicious.
But, we also have to take into consideration that many farmers are taking milk during this time and making other non-fresh cheeses. So now we move on to old, stanky cheeses. There are many cheeses that are the product of this fatty Spring time milkings but need many months to reach their peak of flavor power. Let’s look at an example. How about Stilton, everyone’s favorite British blue cheese.
Stilton is always aged for 6 to 8 months before it is ready for sale. And even then, it can be aged much longer by your local cheesemonger. Under the right conditions, wheels of Stilton can survive for months in your cheese shop (Although not ours. No sir. Everything we sell comes in and goes out the next day. No cheeses sitting around here….) So, we should start to see really good wheels of Stilton rolling out of the English countryside any day now. But, the really good stuff is going to start showing up closer to Christmas time – when the most nutrient-rich milk has had enough time to develop a full flavor profile.
Some cheeses are aged way longer than that. Goudas are aged for years. That’s how you can still manage to find fine farmstead cheeses throughout the year. Plus, you also have to think about what you WANT to eat throughout the year. In the summer, when you are ready to hit the beach and show everyone your new Zebra-striped Italian cut Speedo (which didn’t go over as well as I expected…) you are gonna want to be eating a light, crumbly goat cheese that pairs well with a cold rose and some berries. And maybe a Parliament Light. In the winter, when you are hiding behind a scarf and some sort of fisherman sweater, you want to be eating a big hunk of 6 month old Vacherin Fribourgeois. Rich, nutty, creamy and pairs well with a big, spicy red or a dram of hearty ale. And maybe a venison sausage or something. You don’t want a flimsy sheep camembert that is just going to get all over your new Alden Indy Boots. (And if you love this blog than you can buy me a pair. Size 12. Grrrreat.)
So let’s do the final review.
1.) Milk has different fat contents based on what is going on in that animal’s life during that time of year. Winter = living inside & chillin’. Spring = getting knocked up & making really bomb milk for you, me, and baby. Summer & Fall = living the easy life and eating out in the pasture, providing cool milks with different tastes that are the product of wild herbs and grasses.
2.) Different cheeses need different times to age. A lot of this has to do with when the milk is the freshest and richest and what time of cheese that farm likes to produce. Some people really get off by just producing aged cheeses. They figured out a magic recipe to make their own delicious hard cheese. But, a lot of it also has to do with what people want to eat when. Cheese is a super old tradition that started as a way for farmer’s to feed themselves. Trust me – no old Swiss farmer man is going to be eating goat cheese on a crostini in January. Please. Just….stop that.
So. I hope this answers any questions that one might have about what cheese has to do with seasons. Because God knows Velveeta is a perennial treasure…./ 2 Comments