Maine Summer Cheeses

by Margaret Hathaway

This time of year, when dairy animals spend their days munching outside, their milk is plentiful and sweet. Traditionally, summer is the season to enjoy light, creamy cheeses: fresh chévre, mascarpone, and ricotta pair wonderfully with seasonal fruits and vegetables. If you buy from a small-scale producer at the farmers’ market (or better yet, make it yourself!), you know that the cheese is made from the best milk of the year, flavored with the juicy grasses and ample browse of late summer.

On our farm, some of our favorite August treats include:

–fresh chévre with herbs: we mix in whatever looks good from the garden, from winter savory to Greek oregano, and serve it with lavash crackers or slices of baguette

–a classic caprese: layered slices of tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella with olive oil and sea salt (for a fun variation, substitute peaches for the tomatoes and add a little balsamic)

–fresh chévre mixed with raspberries, lemon zest, and a dab of honey and served with shortbread cookies

–lightly grilled peaches topped with a dollop of mascarpone and a drizzle of balsamic

–homemade goat’s milk ricotta (recipe below) topped with blackberries and blueberries that have been tossed in a little sugar

Simple Goat’s Milk Ricotta Cheese (adapted from Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making)

1 quart fresh goat’s milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (we like Martin Pouret)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/8 teaspoon baking soda

Heat the milk to 195 degrees, making sure not to boil. Remove from heat and slowly stir in the vinegar. The curd will separate from the whey as you stir. Line a colander with butter muslin (in a pinch, a clean dish towel will do), and gently spoon in the curd. Drain for a few minutes, until most of the whey is gone and the curd is the desired consistency. Spoon the curds into a bowl, add the butter and baking soda, and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Makes 1/2 pound.

Photo by Karl Schatz.