As the lilies and irises poke up through the dirt to signal spring, we’ll be taking a cue from the French and eagerly digging into the first goat cheeses of the season. It’s a general rule that artisan cheese is at its best when made with spring milk—after a winter diet of dry hay and feed, the flush of nutritious tender grass, herbs, and wildflowers helps dairy animals to produce richer milk, with more depth of flavor. But even unpastured goats, fed that dry winter diet year-round, produce their fattiest milk in the earliest weeks of nursing, after giving birth in the spring.
A goat produces far less milk than a cow—only six to eight pounds per day, compared to a cow’s whopping 120—so most farmstead goat cheese is made in small batches. Since these wheels are small, they don’t need much time to mature; even the funkiest ripened chèvre spends only a few weeks to a month in the aging cave. Both fresh and soft-ripened goat cheeses made with spring milk are readily available from mid-spring through early summer.