Cheese is seasonal. Many cheeses do have a best season, determined largely by when the grass quality peaks. When animals enjoy a rich grass diet—typically from spring to early summer in the northern hemisphere—they produce richer milk. Also, lactating sheep and goats give birth at this time, so by design their milk is extra special. Equally, cows that graze at high altitude pastures give us an incredibly rich and flavorful milk. This gets transformed into delightful mountain cheese. Produced in late spring and oftentimes aged very briefly, these Alpine hunks are enjoyed in summer.
Plus, as hot weather increases, our urge to fuss over food disappears. We eat lighter meals, steering clear of stoves and ovens. We favor recipes that use seasonal produce sourced at our local markets. This is not, in other words, the time for lasagna.
That’s where fresh cheeses come in. They are a perfect, heat-beating mainstay of summer menus. Even if fresh cheese feels lighter and more in keeping with the season, there are other interesting cheese options for the warmer months. You can find some fresh, summery cheeses year round, but our advice is to follow the cycle of the seasons. Like we encourage you to do with fruit and vegetables we suggest you enjoy your formaggio absolutely farm fresh.
Each of the cheeses listed below works particularly well with summer produce. Pair with crisp white wines, or lightly chilled reds, as well as macerated (orange) wines. Curious to find out more about pairing wine and cheese? We host monthly wine & cheese pairing lessons online.
Below is our list of summer cheeses. If we missed any, please tell us what your favorites are in the comments section!
Made from cow or water buffalo milk, this mild and milky cheese is a classic summer staple. In addition to slicing it with tomatoes and basil in Insalata Caprese, mozzarella can be cubed in pasta salads; added to sandwiches, or layered in many summer dishes like Parmigiana di Melanzane, Arancini, and topping for Friselle.
Imagine a fresh, smooth white ball of mozzarella filled with thick, luscious cream: that’s burrata. It all begins much in the same manner as with Mozzarella: freshly chopped cow’s milk curd doused with boiling hot water. This makes the curds elastic. The mass is then kneaded, stretched, and finally shaped into a smooth ball of perfect, milky happiness. Where Burrata differs is that rather than forming balls, the curd is stretched to create hollow “coin purses.” These are quickly filled with ribbons of shredded mozzarella mixed with heavy cream. All of this spills out seductively when slicing open the rindless “pouch.” Eat this deceptively decadent treat with your hands to fully enjoy its creamy butterfat center. Remember to scoop up with your favorite crusty bread. A glass of chilled Fiano will chase mouthfuls.
Fresh goat cheese
A goat’s cheese log is a self-contained cylinder of joy. In the summer, goat’s milk is usually more floral and grassy, offering a satisfyingly creamy bite and tangy taste. This is owed to the goats’ rich and diverse diet. Enjoy it served with fruits and honey, broken up in a salad or paired with figs. Fresh soft goat also spreads easily on bread or focaccia. Try serving fresh goat cheese on a ripe peach half. Or toss lightly with sautéed zucchini and fresh mint to dress pasta.
Soft and creamy ricotta is a non-cheese dairy product made from re-cooking whey (hence the name, which translates to ‘re-cooked’). In Italy, the majority of cheese producers use leftover whey squeezed out of their curds to make their own ricotta. Spread fresh ricotta on slices of roasted eggplant dribbled with pesto. Or pipe it into delicate zucchini blossoms before battering and frying. Ricotta is furthermore the pillar supporting many southern Italian and Sicilian desserts, think Cassata, Sfogliatelle, Cannoli, Pastiera. The list goes on.
Conciato di Rebibbia
Named after the correctional facility where the cheese is produced by a team of female inmates, this is mouth-watering artisan cheese. The girls roll these intriguing little wheels in 15 different aromatic herbs, like wild thyme, mint, oregano. The herbs and the 3 month aging lend an intense herby flavor (yes, that adorable rind is edible). We like to pair this unique summer cheese with a fine Cesanese from the same region: what grows together goes together.
Gregoriano is a soft pecorino made with a technique called “lactic curdling” (i.e. without the addition of rennet). This is a process that requires more time and patience than regular rennet-based production. The reward is added flavor and a sublime texture. The precious raw milk used is from sheep that graze freely in the heart of Abruzzo, on the Gran Sasso massif, at an altitude of 1,300 meters. Abruzzo sheep produce very rich milk, but they produce very little. Gregoriano – named after the cheese maker and dear friend, Gregorio Rotolo – is therefore a truly exceptional cheese that’s deeply representative of its native territory. Soft and aromatic, Gregoriano is shaped like a flattened disc, the paste acquires softness with aging until it becomes soft and oozy under the wrinkled edible rind. Best enjoyed like dessert: smear it on warm rye bread and pair with dried apricots, medjool dates, sultanas, toasted cashews. Gregoriano begs for a sweet wine like Moscato.
Puzzone di Moena
This cow’s-milk cheese from South Tyrol, whose name translates literally to ‘big stinker,’ makes a strong first impression. And we’re not just talking about the nostril assault. Spretz Tzaorì (in Ladin dialect) is visually striking too thanks to its large 25lb wheel and unctuous patina on the rind. When sinking your teeth into its soft, springy body you’ll note a delicate and vaguely sweet burst of flavor. Never judge a cheese by its smell!
Washed rind cheeses
Washed-rind cheeses literally shine in summer because they are made with milk from animals feeding on primetime pasture. Because most washed-rind cheeses (like Gruyère, Comté, Fontina, Taleggio, Munster, Livarot, etc.) age for about 1-2 months, the wheels available in summer were most likely made with some of the year’s finest milk. An essential component on your summer cheese board. Slice the pears and pour a food friendly doppelbock beer. You can thank me later.
Bloomy rind cheeses
Think Brie and Camembert. When a fresh cow’s milk cheese ages in a room (or cave) filled with healthy and controlled Penicillium candidum spores, the result is what’s known as a bloomy rind cheese. One whose snow white rind is covered in a downy coat. When sliced open, the cheese smells of cremini mushrooms, fresh milk and on the tongue delivers a delicate, sweet taste. Characteristic of bloomy rind cheeses is precisely the sweetness and often the fondant nature of the paste. This is especially so in the cream-line area, where the proteins––helped by the healthy mold––mature more quickly. This makes the paste ooze beautifully under the edible rind. These cheeses work very well with crisp, acidic white wines and pair beautifully with fresh summer stone fruit, figs and cherries.
Cheddar was first born in a British village by the same name. It is still produced using the ‘cheddaring’ technique. This involves the milling, stacking and pressing of curds during production. You can opt for block cheddar, of course, but clothbound cheddar (our favorite) has a deeper buttery richness. It pairs incredibly well with summer picnic fare and sandwiches on the beach. Sharper cheddars provide a strong, piquant profile on the palate, pairing particularly well with pink lady apples.
This salty and satisfyingly rich cheese from Cyprus is best fried or grilled, since it crisps and chars but won’t melt. The slices will furthermore not lose their shape. Serve halloumi as an antipasto with a drizzle of honey or agave syrup. Or cubed in a salad bowl with mint leaves and watermelon; or pan-seared with eggs and toast for an authentic Cypriot breakfast.
Crescenza aka Stracchino
Briefly aged soft-ripened cheeses are shaped as a square or rectangular slab and are meant to be eaten within a few days of production. The flavor is fruity, fresh and light, with an elegantly tart finish. Crescenza aka Stracchino has no rind and is creamy enough to spread on bread or nut-filled crackers. It’s a great dessert cheese: pair with apricots, nectarines or late-summer pears. Or try drizzling it sparingly with extra virgin olive oil and cracked black pepper, served with a green salad.
Remember to bring cheeses to room temperature prior to serving (about 30-45 minutes). This helps flavor profiles and aromas stand out. Click for more tips on storing cheese. Each cheese should furthermore have its own knife. We have compiled a handy list of essential cheese knives with links to purchase them. You can also read our tips on how to cut different cheese varieties, and our advice on what accoutrements to include on your cheese platter.
Curious what classes we’re teaching this summer? Here’s the full list of July lessons!