There’s a lot to love about winter, like watching lightly falling snow, drinking hot toddy’s, and eating all the comfort foods. But let’s add one more thing to the list: enjoying highly seasonal, extremely delicious cheeses that just happen to only be available during the winter months.
Let’s start at the beginning, why are some cheeses only available in the winter? The answer lies within the milk, and the two categories of winter cheeses — cheeses made with spring and summer milk, and those made with fall and winter milk.
Winter Cheese Made With Spring and Summer Milk
When animals graze on fresh grasses, herbs, etc. on pasture during the spring and summer, those wildflower and oniony flavors are transferred to the milk, lending more complex tastes to the cheese. Spring and summer are also when milk production is at its highest, often times resulting in more numbers of larger wheels, and those larger wheels require months of aging to realize their true flavors. For winter cheeses, this means that cheese made with milk from May through October would be ready to eat between November and May. This category includes many alpine and alpine-style cheeses, here are some of our favorites:
2 Year Comté
Comte is the pride of France’s Jura region, and for good reason: it is considered to be one of the world’s greatest cheeses. The best wheels tend toward the sweetness of cooked milk, with a bit of stone fruit and the quiet nuttiness of browned butter. And that’s just when Comte is aged for the requisite one year. This version is aged for two, at which point the texture becomes firmer and flecked with crunchy tyrosine crystals and the flavor profile develops even further to include smoke, chocolate, and hazelnuts.
Gruyere Alpage Moleson
The Gruyere Moleson Murray’s recieves is handmade from a single family cheese dairy, and this artistry and care can be tasted in each pliable, dense slice. Traditional Gruyere is aged between six months to three years. Gruyere Moleson is aged for eighteen months, which gives it a wonderfully balanced caramel flavor that is perfect for a classic fondue or melted atop a Croque Madame. Marked by time, browned with age, and pitted with tiny holes, a notable feature of this expertly aged cheese is the rind.
Winter Cheeses Made With Fall and Winter Milk
During the fall and winter months, cows are often in the barn, eating hay or silage (a mix containing fermented hay). This means that fall and winter milk is often less complex flavor-wise than than in the other half of the year. But, what the milk loses in wild flavors, it makes up with a much higher fat content. This higher fat gives us the ooey gooey, spoonable textures in cheeses that are so treasured. There’s also less milk during the winter, which means smaller cheeses, aged for less time. Here are our favorites:
Vacherin Mont d’Or
Extremely rare and highly seasonal, Vacherin Mont d’Or hails from Switzerland on the border of France near the mountain d’Or. Traditionally made with the winter milk of the same cows that produce Gruyere in the summer, this cheese is only available from October until April, making it all the more precious. Vacherin Mont d’Or is perhaps one of the most sought-after cheeses on the market. A thermalized cow’s milk cheese wrapped in spruce to contain the woodsy liquid interior that, with one taste, commands spontaneous exuberance.
Rush Creek Reserve
Uplands Cheese, one of the best regarded cheesemakers in the United States, has been making a cheese based on the Vacherin Mont d’Or for years.
Using raw winter milk from their pastured herd of cows they did exactly what the French & Swiss have been doing for centuries: bound small wheels in spruce bark and washed them for sixty days to produce an astonishing unctuous, resiny, bacony delight. The aroma is grassy and full of depth. The flavor is pleasantly mild but never simple, with hints of smokiness. The texture is pure luxury, pudding-like, silky smooth and built for scooping.