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A Guide to Seasonal Cheeses (Plus Recipes)

Did you know that just like your favorite fruits, vegetables, and flowers, there are seasonal cheeses as well?

Before modern day agriculture made it so that most foods are available in grocery stores year round, every food had a season, including cheese. Keep reading to learn all about seasonal cheeses and what makes them so special.

a cheese counter with a variety of seasonal cheeses available

Do Cheeses Have Seasons?

You may be scratching your head at the idea that cheese is actually a seasonal product, but it’s true!

Now, I’m not talking about the commercially produced cheese and cheese products that you find in abundance throughout the grocery store today. I’m talking about small-batch, pasture-based artisanal cheeses usually made by local or regional cheesemakers. 

Before the invention of modern agriculture, we were reliant on the natural reproductive and lactation cycles of cows, goats, and sheep in order to make the product we know and love as cheese. The season affects not only the availability of certain cheeses, but the flavor, texture, and nutrient content as well.

How Seasonality Affects Cheese

When it comes to seasonal cheeses, we already mentioned that the reproductive and lactation cycles play a role in availability of milk to make cheese. However, the animal’s lactation cycle also plays a role in the nutrient content and, therefore, the flavor of the cheese as well. Additionally, variations in the animal’s diet throughout the year play a role in the flavor of the cheese.

Lactation Cycles

Similar to humans, the animals we get our milk from only produce that milk after giving birth. Moreover, the nutrient content of that milk varies throughout the animal’s lactation cycle.

Milk Production

Each animal produces milk for different amounts of time after giving birth. Cows have the longest lactation period of about 10 months, while sheep have the shortest at about 8 months.

While many artisan cheesemakers have begun to stagger the mating of their animals to stretch the milk production season, there is still usually a dry period of at least a couple of months every year during the winter. While aged cheeses are often still available during these dry periods, fresh cheeses are harder to come by.

Nutrients

Since milk is intended to feed and nourish growing babies, the nutrient content of that milk varies throughout the lactation cycle. And this makes sense when you think about it.

Newly born babies need lots of protein and fat when they’re first born and so milk contains a high percentage of these nutrients. As the lactation cycle continues, the ratio of these nutrients decrease and then rise again before milk production stops altogether.

This high protein and high fat milk is liquid gold in the cheese-making world due to its ability to make creamy, rich cheeses.

Animal's Diet

In another parallel to humans, the diet of pasture-raised animals varies with the seasons. And what the animal eats throughout the year can affect the flavor and nutrient content of the milk they produce.

Beginning in the spring and continuing through the fall, pasture-raised cows, goats, and sheep are grazing on fresh grasses, wildflowers, and herbs. The moisture and terpenes from these grasses make their way into the milk, leading to a cheese with a lower-fat content, but a brighter and more-floral flavor.

Once winter roles around, the animals are usually kept in sheds and fed a diet of silage and hay. This type of diet is lower in moisture, which leads to milk with more concentrated fat and protein. Winter cheeses tend to be higher-fat and, therefore, richer in flavor.

a goat laying in her stall

Cheeses By Season

This list breaks down some of the best cheeses to try during each season.

Spring

Spring is the time of year when milk production is starting and the fat and protein content of the milk used in cheese making is high. Fresh, young cheeses are best this time of year. You can also find some aged cheeses from the previous seasons coming into ripeness around this time.

Try these spring favorites:

  • Chèvre– A soft goat cheese with a tart, citrusy flavor. This cheese is usually only aged between a few days to a few weeks.
  • Fromage blanc– A fresh, soft cow’s milk cheese with a similar consistency to cream cheese or a thick yogurt.
  • Brebis– The sheep’s milk version of a soft, fresh cheese, brebis is richer and creamier than its cousins due to the higher fat content of sheep’s milk.
  • Ricotta– If you love Italian food, then you’re probably familiar with ricotta cheese. Ricotta cheese is a fresh whey cheese that can be made from the milk of any animal and usually isn’t aged at all.

Summer

Many of the cheeses that are enjoyed during the spring can also be enjoyed throughout the summer months as the lactation period for all milk-producing animals is still going strong.

However, summer is when some cheeses that are aged for just a few months are perfectly ripe and ready to be tasted.

Try these summer favorites:

  • Roquefort– An aged blue cheese made from sheep’s milk with a tangy flavor and crumbly texture. This special cheese is aged for 5 months in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
  • Camembert– A soft, creamy cow’s milk cheese with a bloomy rind. Often compared to brie cheese, camembert is usually aged at least 3 weeks to achieve its signature taste and texture.
  • Gorgonzola– Another cheese with veins of mold, gorgonzola is aged at least 50 days. This cheese is creamy in texture with an acidic and sometimes pungent flavor.

Autumn

As autumn approaches, fresh cheeses are still making their appearance, but the true magic comes from the cheese that have been aging for several months.

Try these autumn favorites:

  • Ossau Iraty– A semi-hard cheese made from the milk of sheep that graze in and around the Pyrenees mountains. Rich and slightly granular, this cheese is described as having a nutty, grassy flavor. Ossau Iraty is usually aged between 3-6 months.
  • Tomme d’Abondance– This cheese is another semi-hard cheese that is aged for approximately 90 days. Made from raw cow’s milk, this fragrant cheese is said to be fruity and buttery in flavor.
  • Aged Goudas– Gouda cheese is a semi-hard to hard cow’s milk cheese that can be aged anywhere from 4 weeks to 12+ months. This cheese becomes sweeter with age and begins to develop cheese crystals, which give it a slight crunch.

Winter

Once winter arrives, milk production stops for the most part and fresh cheese production ceases until the spring. No need to fear though! Aged cheeses still make for a stellar seasonal delight.

Try these winter favorites:

  • Aged Cheddars– Cheddar cheese is a hard cheese that can be aged anywhere from a few months to several years, with the average being somewhere around 12-18 months. Made from cow’s milk, cheddar cheese that began aging the previous summer is well-suited to be enjoyed during the winter months.
  • Gruyère– Another hard cow’s milk cheese with a 5-12 month aging period. Gruyère is a grainy cheese with a slightly sweet, nutty, and earthy flavor.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano– Well known in Italian cooking, parmesan cheese is a hard cow’s milk cheese that is slightly sweet and nutty in flavor. This cheese is aged for at least 12 months and develops cheese crystals as it ages, which give it a granular texture.
a board with seasonal cheeses and crackers

Where to Find Seasonal Cheeses?

In today’s society, cheese and cheese products are available all year long in grocery stores. However, if you want to find quality, artisan cheeses, you have to know where to look.

Grocery Stores: Some grocery stores have become hip to the seasonal cheese trend. Many grocery stores today have a cheese counter that is separate from the dairy section of the store. Here, you may find some regional, artisanal cheeses.

Farmers’ Markets: The local farmers’ market is an excellent place to go if you’re looking to find ultra-local cheeses to try. Most farmers’ markets will have cheese vendors available to sell you their cheeses and talk to you about how they made them.

Local Cheese Shops: If you’re lucky, your town or city might have a dedicated cheese shop or a cheese counter located within a local market that carries a variety of cheeses from local cheesemongers.

Recipes to Make Using Seasonal Cheeses

Can’t wait to head out to your local cheese shop or farmers’ market to buy some local, seasonal cheeses?

I’ve got you covered below with recipes to try for every season.

Spring

Chèvre (Goat Cheese):

Ricotta:

Burrata:

Feta:

a vegetarian stuffed portobello mushroom on a white plate
Vegetarian Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Summer

Blue Cheese:

Gorgonzola:

Brie:

Mozzarella:

Fig Toast with Caramelized Onions, Blue Cheese, and Arugula by Healthy(ish) Appetite

Autumn

Cheddar:

Gouda:

white cheddar, pumpkin, and sage dip in a green crock
White Cheddar, Pumpkin, and Sage Dip by Dip Recipe Creations

Winter

Gruyère:

Parmesan:

gruyere and thyme popover on a white plate
Smoked Gruyère and Thyme Popovers by Erica's Recipes

Question or Comment?

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