Cheese through the Seasons

Cheese and the Seasons ...

During certain times of the year, certain cheeses are at their peak of perfection, while others are less tasty. For example, it's best to avoid Vacherin in summer or goat cheese in winter.

The fine-weather seasons

The best seasons are indisputably spring, summer, and autumn. The flavour of milk depends heavily on what the animals producing it have been eating, and thus on the quality of the grazing. The milk from a cow fed on winter hay will not have the same flavour as the milk from a cow grazing in an open field in the spring. Grazing on abundant grass with a sprinkling of gentian violets or buttercups, the cow will yield a much richer, more fragrant milk. Cheeses made from this milk and ripened for about four weeks will have a more pronounced and more delicious taste than winter cheeses.

There is, however, one exception to this rule: for cooked and uncooked pressed cheeses, it's not so much the season that matters, but the curd ripening time. Beaufort de Montagne and Comté made in the summer are by far the best at the end of the winter - of the following year!

In winter, from January to March

This is the time to savour the cheeses that benefit from ageing, which are now ten to eighteen months old, and the Vacherins produced after the first cold snap. You can also offer on your cheeseboard Époisses, Maroilles, Muenster, Comté, Livarot, Roquefort, Brie de Melun, Camembert, Pont-l'Évêque, and the blue varieties.

In spring, from April to June

Goats and cows begin to graze on the first grass in the pastures, so their milk is fragrant and flowery. Bries, Coulommiers, the entire goat-cheese family and fresh cheeses are at their very best.

In summer, from July to September

The first ripened cheeses, such as soft, washed rinds and bloomy rinds, are reaching maturity. This is the season of Langres, Pont-l'Évêque, Maroilles, Camembert, Saint-Nectaire...And don't forget fresh cheeses, Brousses, or goat cheeses.

In autumn, from October to December

The regrowth of the second mowing of grass imparts big flavours to cheeses. The variety is tempting, since Époisses, Muenster, Cantal, Roquefort, Brie, and Camembert are perfect just now. In the heart of winter, Vacherin is at its best.

The seasons of milk?

Most cheeses are better at certain times of the year. The notion of a cheese season, however, hides a small inaccuracy. Actually, it's less the time of consumption of a cheese that counts than its time of production.

For example, spring and autumn milk is richer because the cows, goats and sheep graze on grass enriched with wildflowers during these two seasons. The best cheeses, therefore, are those that are made from this milk. After that, however, it's all a question of ripening. A cheese that needs to remain in the hâloir (drying room) for six months will be delicious in the middle of winter.