by Grace Mitchell
We all know it because of our own human experience: animals only produce milk after they give birth to their young. It’s easy, however, to forget this plain fact of nature when we have a constant supply of fresh milk, cheese, and other dairy products. Thanks to modern technologies and human manipulation of animals’ natural cycles, we can conveniently partake in dairy year-round.
But just like those out of season vegetables that we buy at the supermarket, this consistent supply of dairy is sometimes lackluster when it comes to taste. While the majority of dairying in this country occurs without consideration for the natural cycles of animals, there are a few dairies and cheesemakers who understand that making cheese in accordance with the seasons will yield the best product.
In seasonal dairying, animals give birth to their young in spring and begin producing milk to feed them. This resurgence in milk production comes after a dry period in which the animals do not produce milk. Goats, for example, have a ten-month lactation cycle, and milk production that begins in spring thus ceases in late fall or early winter. At this time, the goats also must move off pasture with the arrival of cold weather, and their milk quality changes with quality of their feed.
Now that it’s spring again, the goats have given birth and are once again making milk. This recommencement of milk production also corresponds to moving the goats to pasture. No longer wintering indoors dining upon stored winter feed, these goats are now grazing on lush spring pastures and woodland browse which endow their milk with an array of vitamins, minerals, and other flavor compounds, thus yielding especially complex cheeses.
Some of the cheeses made from this milk are intended to age for several months, such as Consider Bardewell’s Manchester. But for those of us in desperate need of instant gratification, there is fresh chevre for us to enjoy right now.
I attribute my most memorable and extended encounter with fresh chevre to my stint working on a goat cheese farm, at which I arrived in late spring. There was an abundance of baby goats, and a corresponding abundance of fresh chevre, present three meals a day. Luckily, my springtime chevre habit need not desist now that I live in the city, as Murray’s has made great friends with Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan, owners and operators of Nettle Meadow Farm in the Adirondacks. From the milk of their 300 goats, they make some of our favorite cheeses, including Kunik. In the spring they handcraft fresh chevres, some of which are so lovingly flavored, and all of which are pillowy, milky, tangy, lemony, and absolutely dreamy in your mouth. It’s best right now–so quick! Get yourself some fresh chevre while it’s delicate, complex, and benefitting from the newness of spring growth.