I love the spring! More importantly, I love spring cheeses – especially fresh goat cheeses, which are at peak flavor in the springtime. In fact, many cheeses taste particularly good around this time of year, so good that it can’t possibly be coincidental.
To find out why spring cheeses taste so outstanding, I reached out to Judy Schad of Capriole, the famed Indiana goat dairy. She said that in the springtime, the goats’ milk becomes pleasantly acidic and very lactic – meaning a bit sour, but not distastefully so – which gives the cheeses that distinctive bright, lemony tang. She’s also adamant that carefully hand-ladling the curds is the key to creating the light, fluffy interior texture that’s preferred in young goat cheeses. To demonstrate what she was talking about, Judy graciously sent me three samples of her young cheeses: the ash-dusted, golf-ball-sized Wabash Cannonball; a small brick-shaped, marbled cheese called the Sofia; and Piper’s Pyramide, a beautifully fashioned paprika-dusted cheese. The Wabash has long been a favorite of mine, but the rich Sofia and the perfectly peppery Piper new to me and delectable as well. I paired the cheeses with crusty bread from my local farmers market and a glass of Durant Vineyards 2015 Ava Lucia Rosé of Pinot Noir wine, which was a decadent match.
I later asked my pal Matt Bonano, the owner of Brooklyn South cheese shop and deli in St. Petersburg FL, to weigh in on the spring cheese discussion. Like Judy, many of his favorites for this time of year are small-format goat cheeses – some American, but mostly from the Loire Valley, France. However, he surprised me with one of his other choices: Manchester, a rustic, aged raw goat cheese from Consider Bardwell Farms in Vermont. But his absolute hands-down pick for cheese-of-the-season is Ossau-Iraty, the sheep’s milk French Pyrenees classic. The Ossau-Iraty cheeses that are being sold now were made at the time when sheep were grazing in high meadow pastures in mid-summer last year. The milk from that timeframe lends delicious floral flavors and a bit of nuttiness to the cheese (as Matt said, six months in a cave would make him “nutty” as well!).
Yet another cheese expert I chatted with about spring cheeses is Andrew Steiner, owner of Andrew’s Cheese Shop in Santa Monica CA. This year, he’s fully energized about small-format French goat cheeses (are you seeing a trend here?). He had just brought in some young ash-covered Valençay cheeses that were lacking their signature bloomy rind, so he’d built a little cheese cooler to help ripen them. He said they looked a bit rough at present but he was thrilled that he’d helped to retain and draw out the exquisite flavors of the cheese.
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So a word to the wise: take it from these top-notch cheese connoisseurs and go pick up some spring cheeses today. If you’re anything like me, sitting in the sun while sipping pink wine and nibbling great cheese is the perfect way to spend a spring day.