I’ve written briefly in the past about summer- and winter-milk cheeses—wherein two wheels of the same type of cheese will look and taste differently because of what the animal was eating during the time of year when its milk was collected to make the cheese.
But there are more than two seasons in a year, and right now it’s spring.
Coincidentally (or not, really) we just finished up a “spring cheese” promo at my shop. There are two things that “spring cheese” can mean at any given time in the year.
One side of this distinction is cheeses that are made with milk that was produced during the spring, when the grasses are beginning to shoot up from the ground and animals are starting to be allowed to spend more time outside as the weather gets warmer. Milk from this time of the year will have different flavor characteristics than milk produced during the winter, when most dairy animals hang out indoors and eat stored food rations as they dream of warmer weather and sunny days spent in pasture.
Usually, the cheeses that carry the “spring milk” title for this reason are aged a little longer and first become available to buyers in the summer. There’s one cheese, Meadowkaas, that our customers go nuts for; it’s a spring-milk gouda that we only get a few wheels of during the early summer, and its flavor is grassy and fresh.
Then there are cheeses that are seasonal and only made during spring time—just as there are cheeses that are only made in the summer, fall, or winter. Although we are so used these days to being able to get whatever we want whenever we want it (say, strawberries in December), many smaller producers adhere to seasonality in their milk production and cheeses.
Spring cheeses don’t always have to be made only during spring, as they can be cheeses that are made starting in the spring and then throughout the rest of an animal’s lactation period into the summer and maybe even autumn.
Again, this depends on whether or not a given cheesemaker wants to follow seasonality in the milk. It could also depend on when the animals get pregnant: some dairy farmers have their animals get pregnant at different times throughout the year, to stagger their milk production so that there is milk year-round.
But by far and large, this “spring cheese” category tends to refer to fresh goat’s milk cheeses: soft Chèvres, barely aged Crottins, little pillows of fluffy goat goodness. These are the types of cheeses our spring cheese promo highlighted.
As far as I am concerned, the hype is worth it—as it is for any seasonal delicacy.
Allow me to digress.
My first experiences of Germany when I was a kid were eye-opening from a culinary perspective. My grandparents made sure that I understood the importance of Spargelzeit (asparagus time!) and Erdbeerzeit (strawberry time!), two seasonal celebrations that happened to take place every time I visited during my summer vacations.
Both of these celebrations embraced the concept of seasonal eating. Yeah, you could find asparagus or strawberries during other times of the year, but everybody knew they wouldn’t be as good as they were during their appropriate seasonal time, and especially when they were locally (or regionally) grown.
Everything has asparagus in it during Spargelzeit; everything is covered in strawberry during Erdbeerzeit.
And so, during spring cheese season, why shouldn’t everything be covered in, stuffed with, paired to, or complemented by good spring cheeses? (Which, if the Germans had to have a name for it, would likely be Frühlings-Käsezeit, spring-cheese time!)
After all, it’s neat when after you’ve spent months eating the best cheeses from autumn and winter, suddenly something new comes into season and is really good. As a cheesemonger, it is exciting when we start to get in new cheeses from River’s Edge Chèvre down in Oregon—who did not make any cheese this winter because all of their goats ended up pregnant at the same time—or from Gothberg Farms in Bow, Washington.
It’s refreshing to taste the cheeses again after not being able to get them since October or November. And the cheeses are at the same time new to the case, but recognizable old friends.
When you can’t get things all year long, they are more special when you actually can get them—and, frankly, they taste a lot better.