As with fruits and vegetables, cheeses are best enjoyed when nature intended them to be – in season. Just like how an apple won’t taste as crunchy and as sweet in February as it will in September, a fresh young goat cheese will taste dramatically different when scoffed April than in December.
The fact that cheeses are seasonal isn’t common knowledge in our modern supermarket-loving and ready-meal-eating era. Many people don’t realise that cheeses can taste dramatically different depending on the time of year they were produced.
Before we delve into the details, bear in mind that the seasons hardly affect mass produced commercial cheeses. For the sake of your health, your taste buds and the animals making the cheese, we would always recommend avoiding commercially made cheeses. Start spending your cheese money on better quality artisanal cheeses and we promise you wont look back – even if you cant afford quite as much cheese as before, you will enjoy it twice as much!
How Do The Seasons Affect The Taste of the Cheese?
It makes sense that the flavour of cheese is closely linked with the soil the animals graze on. Cheese is produce after all, just like the strawberries in your fridge or the sweet potato in your cupboard. All influenced by the land.
There are hundreds of different types of cheese and each one will differ slightly in flavour and texture. Lots of factors influence the flavour – the type of milk used, the breed of animal the milk has come from, the content of the soil that the animal grazes on, the method of drainage and the time of year the cheese is produced. The latter can make a surprising difference to the flavour of the cheese, even if all the other factors remain exactly the same.
The fact that some cheeses are only available at certain times of the year goes some way to show how influential the seasons are on the flavour of the cheese.
For example, some of the best goats’ cheeses in the world are produced in the flora rich fields on the mountains of the Alps and the Pyrenees in Spring and Summer. The unique climate produces abundant wild herbs and lush grasses which the goats graze on, which help to produce a flavour incomparable to mass produced goats cheese where they are fed hay year round.
Traditionally made, fresh artisan Goats cheese is produced in Spring. Compared with mass produced goats cheese, you get a much richer flavour and more enjoyable experience because the latter is produced with milk from hay fed goats that are kept indoors rather than pasture fed goats who live outside. (I expect the goats are happier living outdoors too!)
No Milk = No Cheese
The other factor that makes cheese seasonal is that goats and sheep aren’t producing milk year round because they aren’t breeding year round. They only produce milk from early spring until late summer, which means that ‘fresh’ goats cheese available in the winter months will be made from powdered or frozen milk. This extra processing has a negative impact on the flavour of the cheese.
Even though cows can produce milk throughout the year, April to October is also generally the best time to enjoy cows milk cheese because of what they get to graze on during these months. Think the luscious green grasses of spring, the beautiful wild flowers and abundant wild herbs in summer and even the second growth of new grasses in late summer and early Autumn. This all impacts the flavour of the cheese enormously.
Spring and Summer
Cheeses produced in Spring and Summer is the perfect period for most cheeses because the animals have been grazing on spring pastures including rich grasses, flowers, clover and herbs. Fresh, un-aged Goats cheese and Ewes cheese are best enjoyed during April to July because this is when they produce the richest milk.
Autumn and Winter
Just like us, most animals prefer a warm and comfortable environment in the winter. This means that they are moved indoors and often fed on a silage-based diet. (Silage is a type of fermented conserved grass, gathered in the summer). Naturally, this change in diet affects the flavour of the milk that the animals produce. It tends to produce a slightly sweeter yet more robust cheese.
Cheese produced during this time can still be enjoyed but it may not present an optimal flavour.
It still pays to enjoy an aged cheese at the right time – you just need to do a bit of maths! For example a cheese made in August but aged for 6 months will still taste very good in February.
Aged cheeses are less susceptible to changes in the seasons than fresh or young cheese, so these are a safer bet during the cold winter months for optimal taste and enjoyment.
Which Cheeses Should I Eat When For Optimal Flavour?
- Spring: Fresh Goat and Ewes Cheese
- Summer: Soft Bloomy Rind Cheeses
- Autumn: Blue veined cheeses
- Winter: Stilton and Vacherin Mont D’Or!