Tips for a Late Summer Cheese Picnic

 

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Part II of a seasonal collaboration with illustrator Johanna Kindvall:

Summer is the season to eat cheese in the wild. In June, Johanna and I both spent time in southern Italy, albeit separately, enjoying durable cheeses on picnic blankets (see her post on the subject). We both agree: what is lovelier than eating Pecorino in a pasture strewn with wildflowers?

As you eat, you can taste the grassiness of the milk, and the experience become doubly sensual. If you can’t picnic near actual ewes, stare up at the clouds and picture a pastoral life. In the summer, shepherds throughout Europe still lead animals into the hills to feast on wild grasses and herbs (mint, fennel, dill). Animals that gobble gorgeous feed produce beautiful milk. And thus, the best cheeses come to be.

For a summer picnic, I love to buy cheeses made from grass-fed milk. Farmers’ markets are a great source for these beauties, and so is a cheese counter that specializes in artisan cheese. You can also learn to discern grass-fed cow’s milk cheese just by sight; cows cannot digest beta carotene, so they produce golden summer milk. If you see a butter-yellow cow’s milk cheese, chances are it was made from a grass-fed gal.

Picnic cheeses should be easy to pack and easy to pair. Here are a few suggestions for summer cheese combinations that you can toss into a hamper and assemble quickly. If you have your wits about you, grab some toothpicks and a Swiss Army knife. Otherwise, just grab a baguette and a blanket for the grass.

 

  1. Mozzarella balls in brine are a lovely first bite. You can skewer them with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil – or try strawberries and basil – then drizzle them with balsamic vinegar. This is lovely with Prosecco.

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  1. Fresh ricotta comes alive with fresh herbs and sea salt. Pack some thyme from your windowsill, or forage in the wild. Bring a bottle of extra virgin olive oil for drizzling. Also, you can stuff fresh ricotta into peach halves or apricot halves, or use the fruit as scoops. Try topping these with toasted almonds and honey.

 

  1. Soft cheeses that come in balsa wood boxes (Camembert) or little crocks (Saint-Marcellin) or leaves (Banon, Robiola) are excellent picnic mates. They are gooey enough to spread with a stick, if need be, and they all pair wonderfully with dried fruit, nuts, and honey. Try this: Camembert, green apples, walnuts, honey, and a jug of dry hard cider.

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  1. Swiss Army knife cheeses include Provolone, Caciocavallo, Pecorino and other sturdy birdies. Choose one or two hunks and load up on olives, cured meat, celery sticks, pickled mushrooms, and olive oil crackers. A bottle of red? Enough said.

 

  1. Gooey blue, like Gorgonzola Dolce, makes for a lovely dessert, especially with graham crackers and honey or cherry jam. A goat’s milk blue, like Cremificato Verde Capra, is also a good choice because it’s light. Try packing some dark chocolate and candied nuts, or bring a box of juicy dates and stuff them with blue cheese and almonds.

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A note on storing cheeses for picnics: Before you head out to the field, set your hunks on frozen water bottles or a chilled bottle of wine. Sheep’s milk cheeses, like Pecorino, tend to sweat in the sun, so keep them covered with a cloth. Needless to say, it’s handy to bring a cutting board on picnics. Stash one in your glove compartment and you will always be prepared for spontaneous al fresco snacks.

~

Check out the links below for earlier collaborations with Johanna:

Your Spring Goat Cheese Primer (part 1)

How to Turn Your Desk Into a Cheese Board

 

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Comments
3 Responses to “Tips for a Late Summer Cheese Picnic”
  1. Chris says:

    There’s nothing that I don’t like about this post. Just wish the sun would come out again now…

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