Monday, September 28, 2009

For Every Season, the Perfect Cheese

I don't know about you, but as the days attempt to get cooler I start thinking about red wine again. I have also found myself thinking less about Camembert and tangy little goat cheeses and more about big smoky Blues and stinky Epoisses. It may have something with the changing light in the evenings, or it may be linked to my need to find the perfect sweater even if it's still 90 degrees outside.

In fact, cheeses do have seasons. It has more to do with how long the cheese ages than anything else. The best cheeses come from the best milk, and the best milk comes from animals eating the tastiest food. Cows, goats and sheep eating yummy spring grass, munching on wildflowers and romping in the fields produce milk that tastes fresh, and reminds you of happy goats romping in the fields making daisy chains. Grass in the early fall, when the rain comes after a hot summer is strong and confident. The milk produced at this time has a richer, bolder taste. The same beasts, eating winter hay, will produce milk that tastes a bit less exciting. Needless to say, you want cheese made with tasty milk. BUT, because cheese is preserved milk, you can have it whenever!

In the spring and summer, fresh cheeses and young cheeses rule. Tangy goat cheeses galore! Brie and bloomy rinds come next, as they are all relatively young cheeses. Come early fall, the blue cheeses become available, along with the washed rind cheeses. Yum! In the winter, when all the cows are munching on dry fodder, we get to enjoy cheese that has been aging since April. The flavors of spring grass and wildflowers just intensifies as the Ossau-Irati and Morbier come into season, becoming a comforting reminder of the spring around the corner.

So, go with it! Here's an interesting chart (in French) that can help you determine the best time to eat what. The aged cheeses tend to be good year round, while some others are really fleeting! Ask your cheesemonger what's in season. Think about how dry a cheese is, and try to figure out when it was made by counting backwards. If the month you end up in has tasty wildflowers on the menu, you're in luck no matter what the weather is outside!

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