What are the best cheeses for summer?

09 June 2024, 13:14 PM
  • As nature dials up the heat, what consumers want from their cheeseboard can change, as Speciality Food finds out
What are the best cheeses for summer?

When it comes to al fresco dining (be it lounging in the back garden, a picnic in the park, or a lingering afternoon at the beach) cheese is the most perfect, portable meal solution.

Boules of Burrata with their sumptuous, luscious creamy hearts, are the warm weather cheese of the moment. As Google searches for Burrata were up 900% last year, this is one trend you should be taking seriously, giving your customers oodles of inspiration at the counter, with plenty of ideas up your sleeves for the service of this Italian classic. Perhaps with a drizzle of fine olive oil, spoonfuls of pesto, or even cherry jam from the ambient aisle. Maybe draped with a few slices of your finest Parma ham. Or point customers in the direction of your fresh groceries section for sun-warmed peaches or strawberries, which are beautiful alongside Burrata after a tumble in aged Balsamico di Modena.

It’s a sure-fire winner. But what else should you be considering as you command the counter this summer?

Mel Wythe, farm shop manager at Secretts of Milford, says at this time of year she tends to seek out softer, lighter cheeses for customers. “Some of our new additions are Miss Thymed (which has a light and herby citrus flavour with a nutty background), Cornish Crumbly (a creamy cheese with a lovely zingy flavour that pairs well with fruit and sweet chutneys), and Cornish Yarg.”

Products with a “citrus tang” always do well at the farm shop, Mel explains, adding that sales also climb for the classics such as Somerset Brie, or squidgy French Brie de Meaux. “The soft ripened triple cream Delice De Bourgogne is popular moving into summer,” Mel adds. “But we find our lighter Cheddars continue to do well too, like Twanger cheese. It’s robust in flavour, but not too strong like some of the vintage ones.”

To bring a point of difference to a summer cheeseboard, Mel says they like to highlight seasonal fruits and chutneys for contrast, while also stocking a broad range of salamis, either whole to cut on the go, or pre-sliced for ease. They “really help elevate a cheeseboard, with additions like peppercorns and fennel bringing pops of flavour”. She also advises pointing customers towards greenery, such as fresh herbs or salads to garnish their boards, as well as nuts, olives and honey.

Victoria Dunthorne of Victoria’s Cheese also advises a lighter touch. “For cheese retailers, the summer brings opportunities for selling cheese for outdoor grazing, parties and picnics,” she says. This means classic winter staples for “eating with a robust red in front of the log burner” have given way to cheeses that lend themselves to salad-based meals. “I think we naturally eat more ‘alternative’ milk cheeses in summer, like crumbled goats’ cheese on a beetroot and walnut salad. So our offerings need to reflect this. Goats and ewes are generally lactating in the summer months, so their cheeses are at their best.”

Retailers must be careful, however, Victoria says, when stocking these kinds of cheeses. “Some fresher cheeses, like Burrata and young goats’ cheeses, for example, have a very limited shelf life, so we need to be clever in not overstocking so we don’t fall victim to high wastage costs. I use different suppliers, so have different delivery days, which means we can have smaller, but more frequent deliveries.” This, Victoria explains, ensures she has enough stock at any time, while mitigating against waste.

As for pairings? Victoria likes to steer her customers away from richer chutneys and towards other accompaniments in summer. “One of my favourite, lighter cheeses for summer is Wissington,” she says. “It’s a local ewe’s milk cheese made by Becky Enefer just down the road from me here in Norfolk. It is a hard cheese with a fresh lactic flavour that I love to serve with pickled pear.”

Like Mel, Victoria is also a fan of Delice de Bourgogne for summer, advising eating it with ripe English strawberries. And “a lighter washed cheese that lends itself to summer is Gubbeen. It’s one of my current obsessions, served with some pickled watermelon rinds.”

When you eat lighter you drink lighter. Victoria adds. “So if we’re cheese grazing in the garden, we’ll be drinking English pink fizz, or a light, fruity beer.”

If you live in a holiday hot spot, now is the time to hone in on those local cheese champions at the counter – perhaps even more so than you do year-round. Tourists generally love to head home from their break with a taste of the region they’ve visited neatly packed in the car, and cheesemongers should capitalise on this.

Mark Kacary of The Norfolk Deli says in his experience peckish holidaymakers will ask for products they are familiar with at the start, but you should use their enquiries as an opportunity to offer them something they might not have tried before. 

“Small local cheesemakers need cheese retailers to help push and promote their products to keep them economically sustainable,” Mark adds. “We always find that cheeses like Baron Bigod go well, but so does Mrs Temple’s Walsingham, or Wells Alpine, or Ferndale’s Norfolk Dapple. For a taste of summer you can’t go far wrong with St Jude or, looking a little further afield, Feltham Farm’s La Fresca Margarita Salted, drizzled with smoked chilli oil or peanut rayu at summer barbecues.”

Wrapped carefully and kept cool, all cheese is a good travelling companion. But truckles make life even easier. 

Heather Lewis of Clawson, which recently launched a series of fine, characterful wax truckle cheeses, based on the dairy’s Cheddar, Red Leicester and Wensleydale, says the appeal of these products is that they “come in their own packaging. All you have to do is pop them on a board, in a basket or on a table and they are protected. They’re nice and easy to carry. And I think, because of our branding, our new products are a bit of a talking point too.

Heather also advises retailers to remind shoppers of the portability and appeal of wax truckles for the summer outdoor theatre and concert season, where they make an easy supper popped into a cool bag or hamper with some crackers, a bit of charcuterie and a bottle of bubbly.

Clawson’s Castaway wax truckle, infused with fruity mango and ginger, she says is delightful for summer spreads, as is Truffle Seeker, with its pops of real truffle and sweet honey. While Gunpowder’s naturally smoked flavour lends itself as a tasty topper for burgers.

Outside of the truckle range, Heather says summer is a key time to remind shoppers that blue cheese really isn’t just for Christmas. “Stilton and Shropshire Blue add zing to salads and can really elevate them.” And then there’s creamy, mild Wensleydale which “is nice in a salad, but can also be blended into a cheesecake!”

What to serve with cheese in summer

Honey: Truffle honey is booming, working across the board with practically anything from Gouda and Gruyere, to goats’ and blues. Also look out for more interesting honey. BeeHype, for example, has a whole nut infused honey that tops off baked cheeses nicely, and chilli honey that is brilliant with halloumi or feta.

Fresh stone fruits: Peaches, apricots and plums are excellent with summer cheeses – particularly if lightly charred.

Frozen grapes: Advise customers to garnish their warm day grazing boards with frozen grapes (or even berries). Fragrant muscat grapes are divine with many types of cheese.

Chilled sparkling red wine: Matched with a blue or washed rind cheese, this Australian barbecue essential is the pairing your customers need to know.

Heritage cider: Incredibly versatile, lower in ABV than wine, and bursting with complexity. There are some amazing ciders on the market today to put with the summer cheeseboard. Keeved varieties work especially well. And Oliver’s is a name to look out for.

Chilli jam:
Shoppers are loving anything with a bit of fire at the moment, so capitalise on those chilli jams right now.

Strawberries: A surprisingly good bedfellow with those mousse-like, melt-in-the-mouth cheeses, such as young goats’ or simple mould ripened varieties.


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