Last night we had the first frost of the coming Winter season.
And it was a good one. At -5º Celsius overnight the ground was icy white by this morning.
The first frost always signals a few changes for me. The frost cloths go on the citrus trees in our edible garden, the Yams get dug over after the first frost kills off the tops of the plants, and I prepare to get the Garlic planted to grow over the Winter.
It’s also my signal to stop making cheese for the Winter.
Why Do I Stop Making Cheese?
I’ve been asked before if cheese making is a seasonal hobby.
Not necessarily, but it can be depending on where in the world you’re making your cheese, and what changes the seasons bring in that part of the world.
It also depends on whether you are using raw unpasteurised milk, or if you’re buying your milk from a commercial supplier.
If your milk is all commercially sourced you’re unlikely to notice too much of a change in milk quality throughout the year. The processing that commercial milk goes through neutralises most of the seasonal variances in the original milk product.
I personally use only raw milk for my cheese making which means my milk quality is fully exposed to the variables of the changing seasons.
Where I live, late Autumn and Winter bring frosts, rain, and snow, which all affect the feed for the cows that produce my milk source. In the colder months they go from eating fresh, new grass, to being fed hay and silage.
When they change to this food source, the quality of the milk they produce changes.
It’s not necessarily a bad change, but it’s a change that affects my cheese making. With ‘Winter Milk’ I get a weaker curd, higher acidity levels, and a different final texture and taste to my cheeses.
Some of the changes are good. The milk produced in the Winter tends to be higher in fat which can be wonderful for certain cheeses like Brie or Camembert where you want a creamy, rich cheese.
But the difference in milk quality isn’t the only thing that affects my cheese making over Winter.
With colder temperatures it can take more effort to maintain temperatures during the cheese making process and you have to watch a lot more closely to ensure you can keep them accurate.
Rather than put in time and effort that could be wasted with failures or disappointment in the final product, I simply take a break and stop making cheese during the colder months.
Some cheese makers will also slow down, or halt their cheese making for a short period during the year due to the cessation of lactation in milk producing stock.
Cows and Goats have a reasonably long lactation period for their young and, if you have a larger herd with a staggered calving plan, then you may have access to milk all year round or only a short break in supply.
Sheep have a much shorter lactation period so if they’ve had their young in Spring, by Winter they are most likely to have dried up their milk supply which will mean certain cheeses either won’t be made, or will be made using stored milk or milk from other stock.
Cheese Making All Year Round
There are many places in the world where cheese making can, and does, continue all year round.
When a climate is more temperate the changes in feed are much less significant and therefore do not impact the cheese making process as much, if at all.
In other areas seasonal changes are embraced and you can select to buy a cheese based on the season it was made in, with a certain profile as a result.
Likewise, commercial cheese makers, and well seasoned small industry cheese makers have the tools and expertise to counteract seasonal variations in their products and will either work it to their advantage, or manage it to produce a more consistent cheese as expected by their customers.
Whether you continue to make cheese over the colder months is entirely a personal choice. There’s reasons why you might take a break, but if those reasons don’t apply where you are, or you’re happy to work with the changes that occur, then just keep going!
Do you have any questions or comments about seasonal cheese making? Join the discussion over at the Curd Nerd Forum. We would love to hear from you!