Certain cheeses are best eaten during certain seasons. Figuring out when a cheese will have its optimal flavor and texture is an equation involving three parts: the breeding and milk production of the animals, what the animal is eating, and the amount of time the cheese needs to be aged.
Ideally, consumers shouldn’t have to keep track of which cheeses to eat in which seasons. A good cheese shop will buy and sell cheeses as they enter optimal ripeness.
It is important to remember that animals give milk primarily to feed their young (not to make cheese). Cows have the longest lactation period, so if the breeding of a herd is staggered, it is possible to get milk year round and make cheese year round. Sheep have a shorter lactation period, and produce milk for up to eight months after their babies are born. Goats typically lactate for around ten months. Therefore, there may be a few months during the year (usually winter) when cheesemakers cannot make new sheep or goat milk cheeses. For this reason, the time to eat fresh, un-aged goat and sheep milk cheeses is spring and summer, not winter.
What an animal eats during any given season affects the flavor of their milk. This in turn, affects the flavor of the cheese made from the milk. During the spring, animals might be eating young spring grasses and flowers. This may develop floral, herbal and grassy flavor characteristics in the cheese. In the summer, grasses are lush and animals might ingest more beta-carotene in the pastures. This can affect both the flavor and color of the milk. In the fall and winter, grains and hay become the likely fodder, giving the milk a subtly different flavor than summer or spring milk.
How long a cheese is aged affects when it will emerge on the market in its prime. For example, a blue cheese like Stilton is considered best when made from summer milk and aged three to five months. The best time to buy Stilton, then, is in late fall and early winter.