Spring Cheese: Keepin it Fresh
As a seasonal spring cheese class I'm teaching draws near, I find myself thinking of freshness. Milk, fresh with the flavors of green grasses and young flowers growing on the spring Sonoma and Marin hills. Young cheese, un-aged and meant to be consumed with days to a short week or two from production. And perhaps needless to say, I'm also thinking of Doug E. Fresh's mad beatboxing skills. But that's another hip hop cheese story.
Spring is the time to eat all the young, fresh cheeses that you can possibly fit on your appetizer plate, in your salad, with your entrée, and in your strawberry tart. It's the time when artisan cheese-milking animals are out munching some of the best grass they'll ever get their ruminant mitts on.
Why isn't any aged cheese eaten in an especially fresh season like spring enough? Why does the cheese itself have to be fresh if you want to taste what spring's all about?
If one was to eat an aged cheese now, they'd be tasting the flavors of cheese in whichever season the cheese was made. For example, an aged, 4 month-old cheese consumed now would be made mid-December. The cheese would taste different. It would be richer because winter milk has more fat, and it wouldn't have as many light bright, fresh grassy notes as a cheese made in spring or summer because the animals were eating more hay and dried grasses. It would still be delicious, but it would have noticeably different notes to it.
What to see if you can taste the freshness?
Try some of these beauties :
Dairy Goddess Fromage Blanc (pictured above, recipe with coming soon) An established dairy, but new creamery in Central California, the Dairy Goddess's "Naked" flavor shows the season's flavors best, and their chocolate hazelnut fromage blanc begs to be topped with orange zest and warmed in a crepe. I've also been very happy with Cowgirl's, Bellwether's and Vermont Butter and Creamery's, but try cheesemaker Barbara Martin's if you can- she's new and is doing a great job.
Bellwether Farms Sheep's milk Ricotta/Salvatore Byklyn Ricotta- I love these folks's ricotta, but if you can't find them near you (they sell out fast and don't travel far), look for a freshie made from small-batch local milk. And please, share which regional ones you love in this comment section.
Redwood Hill Chevre- These baby goats were the happiest kids I've ever visited. They munched on my belt buckle and stole my heart, but I'd suggest going with your favorite local chevre- the more local, the less distance it has to travel, and the more fresh the seasonal milk flavors will be.
The above samples are just a few of many great spring cheeses out there. It doesn't have to be this fresh- the cheese could be aged for a bit and still taste of spring, this is just to give you a primer. Ask your cheesemonger for cheeses they think are showing best this season- they probably have something else waiting just for you. If you're very nice to them, what they have behind the counter may be a local mozzarella that demands to be eaten in two days (oh, the stress!).
Also, check out these great goat-themed spring events in the SF Bay Area. Most are free. Some promise baby goats.
3rd Annual Goat Festival- April 16th, San Francisco Ferry Plaza
Goat Cheese Making Workshop with Nicole Kramer (All proceeds will be donated to Cobb Elementary School in San Francisco), Omnivore Books, Sunday, April 17th, 4-5pm
Redwood Hill Open House- Sebastopol, May 7 & 8th between 11 am and 3pm (scroll until you see this baby Nubian photo on Redwood's webpage)
What are you eating now near you?