Get to know these 13 cheeses, each with seasonal charms suited to warm weather.
For summer, the best dessert cheeses are those that are refreshing and light enough that they won't overwhelm fruit but rather enhance it. Capra Honey Goat.
This fresh Belgian goat cheese has just the right amount of honey mixed in, which makes for a lovely, tangy cheese with a distinctively sweet finish. It's a perfect partner for summer fruit, especially berries, peaches and nectarines. Available in the Washington area at Cheesetique (2411 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, 703-706-5300). Cambozola.
A triple-cream cross between Camembert and Gorgonzola, this soft-ripened cheese has a mild blue flavor and is great with a plate of fresh figs, halved and drizzled with a little honey. Available in the Washington area at Whole Foods Market, Balducci's and Trader Joe's. Fresh ricotta.
There are two kinds of fresh ricotta: the soft, white, spoonable curd cheese made from cow's milk that most of us are familiar with; and sheep's-milk ricotta, which is firmer and smoother and usually bears the imprint of the small, round basket that it was pressed in. It can be sliced into wedges. Both kinds are perishable and should be used within a couple of days of purchase. Sheep's-milk ricotta is difficult to find but worth seeking out. It has a lovely, chalky-white color and a dense, tight curd, and it's sweeter and less tangy than cow's-milk ricotta. Both cheeses pair beautifully with ripe berries and stone fruits. For an easy summer spoon dessert, stir unsweetened cocoa powder and confectioners' sugar into either type of fresh ricotta. Sheep's-milk ricotta is available in the Washington area at Cowgirl Creamery (919 F St. NW, 202-393-6883) and Cheesetique. Cow's milk ricotta is available in the Washington area at Balducci's and Whole Foods Market.
Cheeses for Salad
Good salad cheeses can be fresh, tangy goat cheeses that are equally at home on vegetable and fruit salads, or sharp shredding or grating cheeses that can stand up to robust ingredients such as grilled peppers, olives and anchovies. Idiazabal.
This raw semi-aged sheep's-milk cheese from Spain's Basque region is lightly smoked and pocked with tiny holes throughout. It is faintly sweet, with a rich, nutty and buttery flavor. Longer-aged wheels have a sharper flavor and are good for grating. Cut Idiazabal into cubes and mix it into an antipasto salad of cubed salami, green olives, pickled peppers and marinated artichokes or mushrooms. Or use it as an alternative to Parmesan in a Caesar salad. Available in the Washington area at La Fromagerie (1222 King St., Alexandria, 703-879-2467) and Cheesetique. Feta.
Good-quality feta bears little resemblance to the odiferous stuff you find crumbled in containers at the supermarket or on top of Greek salads in many pizza parlors. Good imported Greek feta often is sold in blocks immersed in brine. It is salty, tangy and both creamy and crumbly. Caromont Farm, in Esmont, Va., makes a lovely straw-colored domestic feta that is less salty than traditional Greek feta, with a mild tang.
Feta goes great on just about any salad that features classic summer ingredients such as tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions and mint. For something refreshing and a little daring, skewer a cube of feta, a cube of watermelon, a ripe cherry tomato and a mint leaf. Or crumble feta over a summer fruit salad of cantaloupe, honeydew melon and blueberries. Imported Greek feta is available in the Washington area at Mediterranean Bakery & Cafe (352 S. Pickett St., Alexandria, 703-751-0030), La Fromagerie, Whole Foods Market, Balducci's and Trader Joe's. Ricotta salata.
Not to be confused with fresh ricotta (see "Cheeses for Dessert"), this cheese is salted and pressed to give it a dense, crumbly texture that is somewhat drier than feta's. Crumble or cube it into a salad, or use a Microplane to shave it over grilled steak. Available in the Washington area at Whole Foods Market and Balducci's.
Different cheeses melt in different ways. Pulled-curd cheeses, such as mozzarella or Armenian string cheese, stretch to form long strings when melted. Semi-aged cheeses, such as cheddar, Gouda and Swiss, melt smoothly and thus are best suited to top a burger. Dragon's Breath
From Keswick Creamery in Pennsylvania comes this extra-spicy pepper jack-style cheese studded with jalapeno, habanero and Thai (bird) chili peppers. Dragon's Breath melts beautifully and is right at home atop a grilled beef burger. It is also the perfect fix for a bland turkey burger. Try shredding it onto a vegetarian pizza topped with roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes. Available in the Washington area at Cheesetique. Goat Gouda.
Produced in Holland, goat's-milk gouda is similar in texture to the traditional cow's-milk version but with a smooth milky-white paste and a mild goat cheese flavor. A lovely domestic alternative is Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, which is reminiscent of Parrano, a popular medium-aged cow's-milk Gouda. Aged for one year, Midnight Moon has a rich, buttery color and a complex flavor with hints of caramel. Both regular goat gouda and Midnight Moon are perfect for melting over a spiced lamb burger (see recipe
), stuffing a quesadilla along with Greek olives and roasted peppers, or topping a grilled pizza. Available in the Washington area at Cheesetique, Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's.
It takes a pretty sturdy cheese to stand up to the direct heat of a grill without melting into a gooey mess. Undoubtedly, the best-known of the grilling cheeses is halloumi, the dense, salty, rectangular-shaped cheese flavored with mint.
Here are two other contenders that do well on the grill without the threat of a meltdown: Smoked scamorza.
This smoky brown teardrop-shaped cheese has a firm texture and low moisture content, making it great for grilling. In flavor it is slightly piquant, somewhere between smoked mozzarella and mild provolone. Look for smaller whole scamorzas, about half a pound each. Split the cheese in half lengthwise and rub with olive oil. Grill cut side down over direct heat until a brown crust forms on the bottom, then turn and grill the rounded side. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, chopped fresh herbs and grilled or roasted peppers on the side. Available in the Washington area at Whole Foods Market and the Italian Store (3123 Lee Hwy., Arlington, 703-528-6266). Queso blanco
This Mexican-style mild-flavored pressed cheese has a firm, slightly elastic texture and is less salty than halloumi. Cut the rectangle crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Brush with olive oil and grill the slices until marks form on the bottom. Turn and grill the second side. Serve with a tomato salad or mixed grilled vegetables. Available in the Washington area at Whole Foods Market and Latino markets.
For Eating Fresh
These cheeses should have enough character to stand on their own, yet not be so overwhelming that they slay a summer appetite. Caromont Old Green Mountain Round
This fresh goat cheese round, topped with herbes de Provence, comes from Caromont Farm in Esmont, Va. It's fluffy and creamy, with an assertive tanginess. Spread it on flatbread or thin slices of baguette and serve with mixed olives. Caromont cheesemaker Gail Hobbs-Page likes to serve the cheese with chilled rosé wine. Available in the Washington area at La Fromagerie. Alta Langa La Tur
Produced in Italy's Piedmont, La Tur (which means "the tower" in Italian) is a combination of cow's milk, goat's milk and sheep's milk. It has a soft, crimped, bloomy rind with a faint mushroom aroma. The cheese inside is creamy and light, almost as if it had been whipped. It needs no enhancement and is delicious simply spread on good bread. Available in the Washington area at Balducci's Tomme Crayeuse.
This semi-aged French cow's-milk cheese has a very bloomy rind and a slightly bitter finish, with a paste that is salty and creamy. The longer the cheese ages, the creamier its interior becomes. Its earthy flavor makes it a fine candidate for a late-summer cheese plate. Available in the Washington area at Cheesetique.
Part of On Board For Summer, Domenica Marchetti's feature about summer cheese.