Springtime and Cheese
Palhais Goat Buttons • Tomini Piemontese • Banon Vache de Chalais
Cheese is a seasonal food. This time of year the hard, aged cheeses of winter make way for the lighter, young cheeses of spring. When The Truffle Cheese Shop thinks of spring, we think of the fresh, soft cheese that is being made from the first spring milk, sometimes wrapped in leaves or coated with fresh herbs.
As much as we love cheese, animals make milk to feed their young, not just for cheesemaking. Animals left to their natural cycles do not make milk all the time. When they aren’t producing milk, cheese can’t be made. Goats and sheep are particularly finicky breeders. They tend to mate in the fall and stop milking during the winter months. December through April, younger styles of cheese are scarce. Cows can produce milk all year by staggering the herd’s breeding times, or they can be dried up; it is up to the individual farmer. Small organic farms tend to let their cows cycle naturally. These natural cycles directly influence the cheese being made during certain times of the year. Many times a cheese made in the winter from the same animals, by the same farmer will have an entirely different name than the same cheese made in the summer.
What an animal eats during any given season affects the butter fat and therefore, the flavor of their milk. This, in turn, affects the flavor of the cheese made from the milk. During the spring, a diet of young grasses and flowers give this lean milk a high vitamin content. In the summer, pastures are lush, and animals ingest more beta-carotene. This affects both the flavor and color of the milk, giving it a rich yellowish color. In the fall the pastures are fading and the milk becomes super rich and creamy. In winter, grains and hay give milk yet another milder flavor.
Spring cheese is all about the flavors and aromas of fresh earth, grass and flowers. Rinds wrapped in green leaves with a center of soft, young cheese. This is the time to start eating un-aged cheese.
Palhais Goat Buttons – These small individual goat cheese cylinders are from Torres Verdras, Portugal. Made of pasteurized goat’s milk, they are semi-soft, slightly crumbly in texture, as are many popular cheeses from this region. The flavor is mild, not too goaty yet creamy and rich, salty on the finish. This versatile cheese can be used very successfully for cooking, try tossing with steamed asparagus. The springy, herbaceous flavor lends itself to working well with new spring herbs and fresh salads.
Tomini Piemontese – These beautiful, small rounds of pasteurized cow’s milk cheese are sprinkled with mixed peppers and suspended in golden sunflower oil. Light and fluffy in texture, they have a tangy taste tempered by a rich, smooth and especially velvety finish. These little Italian gems are made with the high quality milk of the Piemontese region. Somehow, in spite of their light consistency on the palate, they have an intense flavor of cream. We enjoy these refreshing little cheeses starting in the spring, and throughout the summer. Try crumbling the cheese over a spring salad, reserve the oil for the dressing. They are nice for picnics, just spread on bread and sop up the oil for something special.
Banon Vache de Chalais – Wrapped in chestnut leaves, this small cheese is packed full of flavor. This version is made with pasteurized cow’s milk. Some are made with goat’s milk or a combination of both milks. The leaves are soaked in eau de vie, a white wine, before being wrapped around the tiny fresh cheese then tied with raffia to hold them in place. The leaves ripen in concert with the cheese adding an interesting variant to the flavor of the cheese. It is named for the French market town of Banon in northern Provence. The cheese varies from slightly crumbly to smooth in texture, depending on the ripeness. The flavor is mild and lactic with a hint of sourness. The leaves give it a woodsy, fruity flavor. It pairs well with fresh fruit and sweet dessert wines.
The Truffle Cheese Shop Tote Bag – This cotton bag will serve you well for a long time to come. Not too large, but big enough to hold a picnic for two, a day’s shopping at the farmers market or some delicious cheese from The Truffle Cheese Shop. Keep it in your car to reuse and save on plastic and paper bags.