Spring is artichoke, asparagus and fava bean season and prime time for radishes, green garlic and beets. We know that. But which cheeses reach peak flavor in spring? What’s tasting great at the cheese counter now?
“We have all these incredible spring vegetables, and I love the fresh cheeses that can be paired with them,” says Juliana Uruburu, cheese program manager for the Pasta Shop in Oakland and Berkeley. “Burrata, fresh goat cheese…all of the high-moisture cheeses take on flavors so well.” In a phone conversation, Uruburu mentioned the fresh, unripened Picandou from France and the tangy, days-old chèvre from California’s Redwood Hill. “You coat these cheeses with anything, and the flavor is drawn right into them,” says the monger.
Uruburu likes to top fresh spring goat cheese with minced green garlic, extra virgin olive oil, chopped pistachios and fleur de sel. I love that idea, although when I made it for the photo (above), I sautéed the green garlic briefly to soften its bite. For burrata, she replaces the green garlic with tarragon.
It’s hard to generalize about seasonality in a country as large as the United States. In Northern California, in a normal year, late fall and winter rains produce lush green grass. So the state’s dairy cows can be outdoors when Vermont’s milkers are still in the barn and eating hay. Despite the meager rainfall this winter, Sonoma and West Marin remain green, so a fresh farmstead cheese like Nicasio Valley’s Foggy Morning is one to explore right now. Same goes for Bellwether Farms Jersey ricotta or Cowgirl Creamery fromage blanc, both made with Sonoma or West Marin milk from grass-fed cows. Andante Dairy’s sublime fresh goat cheese is worth a trip to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market on Saturday, where you can buy it from the cheesemaker herself. Top it with some good olive oil, fresh chives and maybe some cracked pink or green peppercorns.
For Uruburu, as for me, seasonality is not entirely about when a cheese’s flavor peaks. It’s also about when you feel like eating it, and what you plan to pair it with. A young sheep’s milk cheese like Tuscany’s pecorino marzolino may not taste better now than it does in autumn, but this month you can pair it with fava beans, a favorite Tuscan antipasto. This month, Uruburu is shaving young pecorino or the lemony pecorino al peperoncino (coated with black peppercorns) over wilted stir-fry greens. For a domestic alternative, consider Bellwether Farms San Andreas or Pepato.
You hardly need a recipe for any of these ideas, but here’s how I interpreted Uruburu’s first suggestion:
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sliced green garlic
- 1/3 pound fresh chèvre (Redwood Hill in the image)
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped pistachios
- Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt
Warm the olive oil and garlic over medium heat in a small saucepan until the garlic softens slightly, about 1 minute. Let cool, then spoon it over the cheese and top with pistachios and fleur de sel. Serve with crostini.
If you want to let the cheesemaker do the seasoning, try Nicasio Valley’s Foggy Morning with Basil and Garlic; Cowgirl Creamery’s St. Pat (wrapped in nettle leaves); or Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze, a goat cheese flavored with fennel pollen and lavender. “For me,” says Uruburu, “a perfect evening is a Sazerac and a little Purple Haze.”
Bond with Your Mom
Treat your fabulous mom to a cooking class on Mother’s Day weekend at the delightful Soul Food Farm in Vacaville. We’ll gather in the farmhouse kitchen, where I’ll welcome you with a glass of fresh pineapple lassi. I’ll be demonstrating a menu of favorite dishes from my new cookbook, Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, and we’ll end with a light lunch in the garden. Saturday, May 9, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Class menu and reservations here.