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Cheese is great anytime of the year, but as with many foods out there, cheeses can be different in taste, texture, and quality with the changing of the seasons. For example, a number of cheeses will exhibit their peak flavor and texture during the cooler/colder months of the year. These types of cheese are classified into two groups, that is (1) cheeses made from the milk of animals that is produced during peak spring and summer months, usually falling between May and October and (2) cheeses made from the milk of animals produced during peak fall and winter months, usually falling between November and March).
Not only do cheeses themselves vary fundamentally from season to season, but they can also exhibit distinct seasonal variability from region to region. This revolves around when the temperatures turn too cold for animals to remain outside. During peak spring and summer months, animals producing dairy products consume fresh grass, wild flowers, herbs and any other plants, shrubs or grasses that nature may sprout up. On the contrary, as the weather turns colder, these animals remain in sheltered environments and their diets consist mainly of dried hay or silage (grasses which are harvested and gathered at their peak state and preserved for the winter by fermentation processes). With this change in seasonal diets, particularly during the winter months, the animal still produces milk, albeit, the volume and flavors are not at their peak as they would be in spring and summer dairy production; during the spring and summer months, the milk has a distinct sweet, herbal flavor from the grasses and wild flowers the animals consume from the mountain side.
While a number of cheeses are best when aged, this is not the case for all cheeses. Non-aged cheeses are at their peak during the spring and summer months. This would include cheeses such as mozzarella, feta and chevre. Cheeses which are aged, however, can take a longer time to reach their peak flavor and texture. This means that cheeses made from animals’ milk during the spring and summer months may have to wait until the following year to be able to enjoy the full value of the cheese.
Cheeses made from animals’ milk in the spring and summer months which are at their peak flavor and texture by the following winter are:
- Colston Basset Stilton
- Rogue River Blue
- Uplands Cheese Pleasant Ridge Reserve
With the colder months of winter, come cheeses that are produced from the milk of animals whose diet consists mainly of dried hay. These cheeses will be void of many of the distinct, vibrant flavors of cheeses produced from milk produced in spring and summer. However, cheese produced from milk during winter months have a higher fat content which yields very rich cheeses. One of the most highly touted cheeses on the planet comes from winter milk from the same breed of cows that produce summer milk that makes Gruyere called, Vacherin Mont d’Or.
Because of the overall decrease in the overall production of milk during the winter months, winter milk cheeses are generally on the smaller end of the size spectrum while the aging process is over a much shorter time period.