It’s that time of year again. The cheese doldrums. What are the cheese doldrums you ask? They’re that late winter block of weeks when spring fever is on the verge but hasn’t quite broken yet. On the farm, it’s the time just before lambing, kidding, or calving, where there’s a quiet yet somewhat cranky sense of kinetic energy pulsing through every barn. In the cheese case, it’s the time when cheese diversity reaches its nadir, especially in the goat and sheep departments.
Luckily for us, there’s a nascent trend in American farmstead cheese making meant to quell the doldrums a bit, providing us with a dose of goat and sheep cheese even in the sloppiest, longest, grayest final dregs of winter: mixed milk cheeses. Many of our goat and sheep cheese producers used to exhaust the stock of their caves mid-winter, leaving us longing for their aged cheeses until the following summer. More and more we’re seeing a range of mixed milk cheeses issuing forth from farms across the northeast as a tasty and resourceful way to stretch that supply of caprine and ovine cheese all the way till spring.
This practice, so far as I can tell, is uniquely American. In Europe, most cheeses (especially AOC cheeses) are governed by a strict set of rules denoting where and how they must be produced. American cheese makers however, are bound by no such tradition. Our domestic cheese landscape is extremely fertile territory right now, rife with innovation and expermentation. In a move of collective conscience, many goat and sheep cheese makers decided, hey, why not make a cheese that can bridge the gap till springtime? Not only are these cheeses incredibly delicious, they are crucial to the farms’ financial success as well. Whereas before they would have no cheese to sell for months on end, now there’s a steady supply of mixed milk goodness waiting in the cave.
Here’s the short list of mixed milk cheeses that we’re loving right now. Stop by the shop for a taste! It might just cure your late winter blues…
Seal Cove Chevrotin (Seal Cove Farm. Raw goat and cows’ milk, ME)
A tangy, crumbly, yeasty cheese that smacks of goats and yogurt. The wheels are cave aged for 6 months, during which time they develop an impressive reddish-orange sunset colored rind. The flavor of the goats’ milk is tempered by the addition of mellow butterfatty cows’ milk, but the cheese retains a bright, lactic bite.
Fuzzy Wheel (Twig Farm. Raw goat and cows’ milk, VT)
What from the outside looks like a toadstool or hairy stone of some sort is in fact an amazing and delicious mixed milk cheese! Made in the late fall and early winter at Twig Farm, Fuzzy wheel gets its name from the gray mold that makes up its rind. The paste is smooth and creamy, with creme-fraiche notes from the cows’ milk and musky, junipery flavors from the goats.
Queso del Invierno (Vermont Shepherd. Raw sheep and cows’ milk, VT)
This rustic wheel is a sharp and lanolin-laced mix from the cave of David Major. Queso del Invierno (literally translated ‘winter cheese’) tastes like one part cheddar, one part pecorino, leaving a fruity and nutty finish on the palate. Towards the rind, some rustic cocoa flavors can be found for the intrepid nibbler!
‘Till next week, eat cheese and be merry!