Unless you're throwing your cheese on the concrete this summer, you're not having fondue.
At least, that's what a monger at Murray's Cheese insinuated when we sat down for a lesson about summer cheeses.
Cheese, like any other perishable food item, is a seasonal product. Sure, you can buy Kraft Singles 365 days a year, but we're talking about the real stuff: aged, natural and delicious dairy products that haven't been near any artificial dyes or flavor enhancers.
In regions where the seasons determine the produce (not Florida), the entire food chain is affected, and cheese is no exception. In the spring, dairy cows graze fresh grass, flowers and micro flora, as opposed to the dry days in the colder months, which changes the pH, proteins and fats in their milk. These changes are essential in the cheese-making process, and cheese made from this warm-weather milk ends up being the most flavorful.
In the Alpine cheese making tradition, big rolls of cheese would be rolled down the Alps at the end of the summer season, and aged throughout the winter, a tradition that is still followed today.
But what is a summer cheese? Fresh, local cheeses like burrata (which Murray's constantly sells out of, regardless of how much they stock) are popular, especially because they pair well with the produce of the season. Other cheeses, like cheddar, are over twelve months old, aged throughout the winter to increase flavor and make the most of that tangy summer milk. Cheeses that pair well with seasonal produce and those that need to age since the previous year's warm months constitute the two main categories of summer cheeses.
"Places with a bigger seasonality will create richer, brighter cheeses because of the nature of what the cow is eating. It's more difficult to make with less fatty milk, but that brings out more flavor," said John David Ryan, a seasoned cheese monger at Murray's. The shop buys local cheeses like burrata from New Jersey as well as a wide array of imported seasonal cheeses like Real Greek Feta from Greece.
"People who think of summer cheese may not consider how it's made," says monger Anuradha Cetta. "My favorite thing is changing people's perceptions. You make cheese light by what you pair it with: spritzy acidic wines, pilsners and lemonade cut right through the fat. It's all about context."
A glass of rose and a cheese plate is all you need to create the perfect summer meal - and it's the best way to enjoy seasonal cheese - the mongers said.
Murray's mongers encourage variety in a summer cheese plate, but the actual cheese is up for debate, and based on personal preference.
"Soft and creamy, nutty, salty, funky, and cheddary or bleu," suggests Ryan to create the perfect assortment.
Though the Murray's mongers may never agree on what makes the perfect cheese plate, one thing is clear: they all really love cheese, especially in the summertime. Who knew a cheddar could be so refreshing?
Here are some of the Murray's cheese mongers' favorite seasonal offerings:
Real Greek Feta
Meadow Creek Grayson