Here's a little known food fact: Like fruits and vegetables, cheese is also seasonal. While industrially produced products like individually wrapped American cheese singles could likely withstand the blast of an atom bomb, artisanal cheeses are affected by the seasons.
Cheese changes depending on two main factors: Animals' breeding cycles, or when they lactate, and their diet. Spring is a great season for fresh, soft cheeses like camembert, brie, chevre and locally produced ricotta, says Tia Keenan, a professional food consultant and chef fromager — a title she likens to that of a sushi chef, except that her protein is cheese. She points out that many animals have just given birth so are producing a lot of fresh milk right now.
But for those who desire a varied cheese plate for a dinner party, Keenan says not to fear. Local cheesemongers can recommend a hard cheese that was made late last summer and is just now at its peak. For her part, Keenan has strong views on where to purchase cheese.
"The best way to buy cheese is from a cheesemonger from a cheese store," she says. "I'm going to be explicit and say that doesn't include a gourmet supermarket with a gourmet cheese section. Cheese is a really delicate product. It's a product that is best when it's handled properly...and not been stored for a really long time."
When it comes to storage, Keenan recommends tempering cheese, or leaving it out for an hour or two before serving. "I think we over refrigerate in this country in general," she says, before confessing with a laugh that her status as a New York City–certified food handler means she has to say everything should always be refrigerated. Privately, however, Keenan says hard cheeses, especially those in an uncut wheel, usually need less refrigeration that most people think.
Below, find Keenan's recipe for Cheese S'mores, which she describes as a cross between a grilled cheese and a s'more.
by Tia Keenan
1 package of chevre (Lynnhaven is recommended)
70 percent dark chocolate (Mast Brothers, for instance)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Lay the graham crackers out on the sheet tray.
3. Put about a table spoon of chevre on half of the crackers and a piece of chocolate on the other half.
4. Bake for about 7 minutes
5. Take out and assemble: One graham cracker with chocolate with one with cheese.