Seasonal artisan cheeses for summer
If you're planning your menu according to the waxing and waning of the seasons, lucky you! Summer is here and so are luscious berries, succulent stone fruits, and sugar-sweet corn. But it's not just fruits and veggies that are in season during the hot summer months - all things up and down the food chain are affected by seasonal factors. Cheeses, for example, rely on the lactation cycles of the animals they come from. As tempting as it is to believe that sheep, goats and cows just love to provide us with milk out of good-natured sense of hospitality, in truth, of course, these animals provide milk for their babies, not us, and milk production does have a specific season.
Seasonal artisan cheeses
Sheep and goats have a relatively short lactation period, so it stands to reason that the best time to eat fresh, unripened sheep's and goat's milk cheese is during this season of milk production, which happens to be during the spring and summer months. Summer artisan cheeses are exquisite for the lighter fare that accompanies the season.
The term "artisan cheese" simply refers to cheese that has been made in small batches by hand using traditional methods. "Farmstead cheese" takes the process one step further, using only milk given by animals raised on the same farm where the cheese is produced. Many of the summer artisan cheeses are light and packed with flavor – perfect for serving with ripe fruits and garden-fresh veggies. The complex and often intense flavors of these seasonal artisan cheeses are also ideal for pairing with grilled meats.
A really great artisan cheese doesn't take much to make it shine. You can serve a nice fresh goat cheese with very little fuss and quite a bit of fanfare. Just pile up some salad greens on a chilled plate (like butter or red leaf lettuce), top with a generous round of cheese, drizzle with some top-quality extra virgin olive oil, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. If you want to fancy it up a little, grate a bit of orange zest over each plate just before serving. Delish!
And when you've had your fill of simple artisan cheese pleasures, go ahead and try the following fresh cheese recipes. You'll find that you've got one more thing to love about summer!
Summer recipes featuring artisan cheese
Grilled Peaches with Fresh Goat Cheese and Raspberries
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup honey (try orange blossom or blueberry)
2 large ripe peaches, halved and pitted
Clarified butter, melted, for brushing
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, cut into 4 equal pieces
1 cup fresh raspberries
1. Prepare grill for medium-high heat. Coat racks with oil or nonstick cooking spray. Combine ginger and honey and set aside.
2. Brush peaches lightly with clarified butter. Place each half cut-side side down on the prepared grill.
3. Grill for 5 minutes or until grill marks appear. Using long-handled tongs or a wide spatula, gently turn the peaches over and drizzle each half with 1 tablespoon of the ginger-honey mixture.
4. Top each half with 1 piece of goat cheese. Let peaches remain on grill just until the goat cheese begins to melt, about 3 minutes.
5. Remove peach halves to serving plates and sprinkle 1/4 cup fresh raspberries over each half. Serve immediately.
Sheep's Milk Ricotta with Blueberry Compote
Sheep's milk ricotta is creamy, light, sweet, and utterly delicious. If you can't find it a market by you, feel free to substitute regular ricotta.
2 cups sheep's milk ricotta
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar, more or less to taste
Zest of 1 lemon
1 pint fresh or frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1. In a small mixing bowl, stir together ricotta, confectioner's sugar and lemon zest. Cover and refrigerate while preparing compote.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine blueberries, lemon juice and sugar, stirring to mix well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and let blueberries simmer, stirring occasionally, until berries release juice. Continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced and syrupy, and the berries are soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
3. Spoon the ricotta into 4 dessert bowls and top with a generous spoonful of slightly warm or chilled blueberry compote.
Note: If a smoother texture is desired, use an immersion blender to process the ricotta before spooning into the serving bowls.
Savory Bread Pudding with Goat Cheese and Tomatoes
Serves 4 to 6
This is a fantastic brunch, lunch or light supper dish. You might try pairing this with a Sauvignon Blanc or a Riesling – both of these wines have a natural affinity for goat cheese.
1 one-pound loaf artisan-style peasant bread, cubed
4 large eggs
1-1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup oil-packed sundried tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 3-liter round casserole dish with nonstick pan spray and set aside.
2. Place one third of the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and half of the sun-dried tomatoes. Top with second third of bread cubes and sprinkle with remaining half of cheese and tomatoes. Place remaining bread cubes on top.
3. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat eggs. To eggs, add milk, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Pour over bread cubes in casserole dish. With the back of a serving spoon, gently press the bread cubes down into the liquid to moisten. Let sit for 30 minutes.
4. Drizzle olive oil over the surface of the bread cubes and bake for about 40 minutes, until bread pudding is set or until a knife inserted in the center of the casserole comes out with only clear moisture on it. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Note: If pudding is browning too quickly, drape a sheet of foil over the top.