Stars of Summer: Ten Warm-Weather Cheeses and How to Move Them
Some cheeses are at their annual best in summer, and you gain credibility by directing customers to them. Maximize your cheese counter’s effectiveness this summer by showcasing the following warm-weather stars:
You should be selling boatloads of fresh mozzarella in summer. Tomato, mozzarella and basil salad—Italy’s famous insalata caprese—can easily build sales. Remind shoppers of the many variations, including: tomato and mozzarella salad drizzled with pesto; bocconcini with cherry tomatoes, olives, herbs and vinaigrette; mozzarella and roasted peppers; tomato and mozzarella panini; or sliced mozzarella marinated with olive oil, lemon and oregano.
At the Pasta Shop in Oakland and Berkeley, Calif., staffers fill large plastic tubs with ice and display fresh basil, heirloom tomatoes and containers of mozzarella for grab-and-go shoppers. “We make it as easy as possible and show them that everything is fresh, says Juliana Uruburu, cheese program manager.
This pressed, salted and matured cheese complements virtually every summer vegetable and is firm enough to shave. Tell customers to use a cheese plane or vegetable peeler to float snowy shards of ricotta salata over green bean salads, beet salads or grilled zucchini. Grate it over pasta with tomato sauce, or over any dish with eggplant and tomato. A shower of grated ricotta salata looks beautiful on gazpacho or tomato-bread soup.
Fresh Goat Cheeses
“Their acidity invigorates the taste buds, writes Roland Barthélemy in his book Cheeses of the World (Hachette Illustrated UK, 2004). Fresh goatcheeses go beyond refreshing; they’re soft, delicate and ideal for summer salads. With signage or when sampling, give customers some tantalizing ideas: put fresh goat cheese in an ovenproof ramekin, top with olive oil and chopped fresh herbs and heat until spreadable; dollop fresh goat cheese on homemade pizza; spread it on toasts and serve with a green salad; season with fine herbs and pipe into hollowed-out cherry tomatoes; or dress up stark-white goat cheeses with edible flowers such as nasturtiums, violas and chive blossoms.
A summertime favorite is Fleur Verte from France’s Perigord region, a flower-shaped wheel coated with tarragon, dried thyme and pink peppercorns. A wedge of Fleur Verte, a baguette, some Niçoise olives and a bottle of rosé gets a meal off to a fine start.
Ripened Goat Cheeses
The natural-rind French goat cheeses like Sainte-Maure, Valençay, Pouligny-Saint-Pierre, Selles-sur-Cher and Lingot du Quercy, as well as domestic equivalents such as Coach Farm’s Green Peppercorn Cone are at their peak in summer. Matured typically for less than a month, the summer cheeses are made from the milk of goats that have grazed on high-quality grasses, and have the flavor to prove it. If packed carefully, they make delightful picnic cheeses.
Fresh Ricotta and Fromage Blanc
These two super-fresh cheeses create easy summer desserts. Try adding sliced fresh fruit (peaches, nectarines, berries, plums) topped with a dollop of fresh ricotta or fromage blanc and a sprinkle of sugar or drizzle of honey. (Some biscotti completes the picture and becomes an add-on sale.) When whipped, ricotta becomes creamy, light and spoonable. For breakfast or brunch, fresh cheeses can be spread on raisin toast or topped with cherry preserves or strawberry jam. For the aperitif hour, mix with finely minced garlic and snipped fresh herbs to make a savory cheese spread.
Greek salad is the obvious but not the only place for fresh feta. In Greece and Turkey, feta accompanies fresh melon (watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe) on picnics, and the sweet-and-salty juxtaposition is magical. Urge customers to crumble feta over salads with beets, green beans, cucumbers or carrots. Summer vegetables braised in tomato sauce make a light dinner with a chunk of feta and rustic bread.
Whip feta in a food processor with garlic, olive oil and fresh dill to make a spread for toasted pita or lavash; consider selling the herbed whipped feta by the pound at the cheese or deli counter. The Pasta Shop wraps 2- to 3-ounce chunks of feta in grape leaves, packs the bundles in a glass jar with olive oil and sells them by the piece for grilling.
Many Tuscan cheesemakers produce a marzolino, a young version of the more mature Pecorino Toscano. At its freshest, only a few weeks old, marzolino resembles mozzarella—moist, milky and sweet, with a similar springy texture but more pronounced acidity. It can replace mozzarella in an insalata caprese, but in Tuscany it would probably appear as an appetizer with raw vegetables: fresh fava beans, sliced fennel, celery hearts or sliced raw artichokes dipped in olive oil. Add it to an antipasto platter with salami, olives and pickled peppers, or present it simply with extra virgin olive oil, a pepper mill and flaky sea salt. It melts nicely on pizza, too.
Crescenza and Stracchino
Bellwether Farms’ Crescenza, an oozy, briefly aged cow’s milk cheese, is modeled on the Italian Stracchino. Both are soft-ripened cheeses made in a square slab and meant to be eaten within a few days of manufacture or, at most, a few weeks. The flavor is fruity, fresh and light, with a tart finish. The Bellwether Farms Crescenza has no rind and is creamy enough to spread on walnut bread or grilled polenta. Recommend it to customers as a dessert cheese to partner with peaches, nectarines or late-summer pears, or suggest dressing it with olive oil and cracked black pepper, served with a green salad.
Washed-rind cheeses tend to shine in summer because they are made with milk from animals on primetime pasture. Via your conversations or your signage, alert customers that many cheeses do have a best season, determined largely by when the grass quality peaks. When animals enjoy a rich grass diet—typically from spring to early summer—they produce richer milk. Because most washed-rind cheeses, such as Munster and Livarot, are aged for a month or two, the wheels available in summer were likely made from some of the year’s finest milk.
This Mexican-style fresh cheese deserves a promotional push because it enhances so much warm-weather cooking. The cheese needs no introduction to Hispanic customers, but others may need a reminder of how versatile it is. Crumble queso fresco into romaine salad with toasted pumpkin seeds, radishes and avocado. Grate it over carne asada tacos, hot off the grill. Shower it over a black bean salad, a creamy corn soup, or a platter of sliced tomatoes with red onion and cilantro.
Janet Fletcher is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and author of The Cheese Course.
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