Dog Days and Cheese
Summertime cheeses are a quick and simple way to enjoy a light dinner during a heatwave.
This week has been a far cry from the mounds of snow we endured all winter. I promised myself back then I wouldn't complain about the heat and humidity so instead of complaining I've decided to embrace the heat, turn off the stove and really enjoy all the seasonal produce available in the many farmer's markets. Paired with some of my favorite summertime cheeses it is a quick and simple way to enjoy a light dinner during a heatwave.
Summer for most people means firing up the grill, and eating seasonal local produce, for me it means both of those with cheese. Most of us aren't used to thinking of cheese as a seasonal food, but summer is the time when specific cheeses are made or are at their peak. Dairy animals are grazing on green, nutrient-rich grasses and foliage, and their diet comes through in the richness, flavor, and freshness of the cheese. Summer is the natural season for fresh goat's milk and sheep's milk cheeses, such as feta, chevre and ricotta. Goats and sheep stop producing milk in winter when they are bred and preparing to give birth, (some cheese makers freeze the curds collected in summer, which is why we see goat cheese in stores year-round) so the best time to enjoy these fresh cheeses is when they are made from fresh summer milk. It's like waiting for the first tomatoes of the season! They are OK in Winter but spectacular in Summer. There are a few other cheeses, while not seasonally made, that seem right for the hot weather.
Fresh mozzarella or burrata (like mozzarella but with a creamy loose center) are cold, refreshing and the perfect foil for tomatoes and freshly cut basil. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a baguette and you have dinner without turning on the heat.
Here is a list of my favorite summer cheeses and what I like to do with them:
Feta- Good quality feta bears little resemblance to the stuff you find crumbled in containers at the supermarket. Good imported Greek feta often is sold in blocks immersed in brine and is tangy, slightly salty and both creamy and crumbly.
Feta goes great on just about any salad that features classic summer ingredients such as tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions. Crumble feta over a summer fruit salad of cantaloupe, watermelon and blueberries.
Beltane Fresh Chevre- a locally made goat cheese that is smooth and creamy with a fresh lemony tang.
Spread it on flatbread studded with fruit or thin slices of baguette and serve with mixed olives. Use it to top a salad of arugula and roasted beets. Grill vegetables and crumble the fresh chevre over the top.
Narragansett Ricotta-this ricotta is made from whole cows’ milk and is lightly salted, moist, sweet and delicate on the tongue. The texture is slightly fluffy and sweet.
I like this for breakfast on top of fresh berries and drizzled with honey. Also try it as a first course on a piece of bread drizzled with olive oil and black pepper.
Burrata- Burrata means "buttered" in Italian which is appropriate because it is very rich. At first glance, burrata resembles a ball of mozzarella but when you cut it open the interior spills out, revealing soft, stringy curd and fresh cream. If you're a lover of mozzarella, ricotta, or really anything creamy, you should try it.
My favorite way to eat burrata is with fresh tomatoes, drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with basil. It is also great with a slice of grilled bread or even with fresh figs like in this recipe from Michael Chiarello:
Figs and burrata cheese recipe © 2010 Michael Chiarello. Photo © 2010 Frankie Frankeny.
Torn Figs and Burrata Cheese Recipe
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 fresh rosemary sprigs
About 18 perfectly ripe figs, preferably Mission
12 ounces (3 balls) burrata
Freshly ground black pepper
1. To make the figs and burrata cheese recipe, heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and rosemary just until the leaves begin to crisp. Transfer the rosemary sprigs to a paper towel for at least 10 minutes. Strip the leaves from the stem, discarding the stems.
2. Tear each fig into 4 pieces and divide them among 6 plates.
3. Tear each ball of cheese in half and add a portion to each plate. Sprinkle the crisped rosemary on top of the burrata cheese and figs, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.
Michael Chiarello | Bottega | Chronicle, 2010 | Serves 6
Laura Downey is co-owner & cheesemonger at Fairfield Cheese Company
For more information contact:
Fairfield Cheese Company
2090 Post Road
Fairfield, CT 06824