The weather has been so freaking nice lately that it’s torturous to stay inside and type. I have been spending as much time outdoors as possible to soak up this lovely time of year when flowers are still in bloom, the trees provide a touch of shade and it’s yet to become the muggy swamp that is summer in the District.
When picking cheeses to enjoy on an outdoor respite, there are three factors to keep in mind – seasonality (as always), portability, and pairing. Spring is when all of our young goat cheeses are just starting to become available, and I’m chomping at the bit to get my hands on some. We also have to consider the outdoor factor – cheeses that are too soft or stinky won’t hold up well to the heat and will be difficult to enjoy in a picnic setting. And lastly, we want to think about pairing – what could be better than a cold beer or crisp, refreshing white wine to enjoy on a warm day?
Here are my picks for an outdoor cheese spread:
You’ll definitely want to include a few goat cheeses, but some of the super soft goats can be hard to handle outdoors and get too runny in the sun. My top pick is Sofia, which is one of my all-time favorite cheeses. Coming from Capriole Dairy in Indiana, this cheese is beautiful right now – and the beauty of the delicate veins of ash running through the brick-shaped cheese is only part of what I’m talking about. It’s more fluffy and flaky than creamy, with notes of lemongrass and a hint of salinity. It’ll be tough to keep it outside for a very long time… but well worth it!
For a more practical choice, take Rocchetta. This Italian gem (similar to La Tur) is a blend of cow, sheep and goat’s milks. It’s fluffy and rich with the brightness of a goat cheese but not the tang. It comes in a little plastic container as well, so it’s more portable.
With these cheeses, a Portuguese Vinho Verde is perfection. This is an affordable wine that’s slightly effervescent and meant to be drunk when young. Its bright, citrus notes are ideal for goat cheese while the effervescence cleanses the palate after the creamy cheese. It’s a light, delicious quaff for kicking back and cooling off.
For some firmer, richer cheeses, we look to semi-firm cow’s milk. Lately I’ve been enjoying Landaff, a raw milk cheese made by Landaff Creamery in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and aged at The Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont. Based on Caerphilly, a Welsh classic, this cow’s milk cheese is toothsome and flaky, with a lemony tang that I enjoy more than its counterpart’s buttermilk notes.
If you like a bit of a bolder cheese, pick Roccolo, imported by Forever Cheese from Lombardy, Italy. Its name translates to “bird snare,” which refers to the rind’s similarity to the local stone buildings of the region. This is a bit smoother in texture than the Landaff, and its brine bath and aging imparts a saltier, earthier, woodsier flavor as well. This cheese is riper toward the rind (in texture and flavor) than it is in the center, so be sure to cut a piece that encompasses both parts. One of my favorite cow’s milk cheeses right now, Roccolo will also hold up well to the elements.
Both of these cow’s milk cheeses will be excellent with Hefeweizen or Witbier (“white” beer). The low hops in these styles of beer won’t compete with the cheese and aren’t so hearty that they’ll weigh you down. Hefeweizen typically has a bit of tartness, with honeyed notes of banana and clove; while Witbier has crisp notes of coriander, spice and and orange peel that are a great match for a lighter spring/summer spread.
Right now you can find these cheeses at Cork Market, in DC; and Arrowine, in Arlington. Enjoy your picnics, and let us know what you decide to serve!