Winter provides a unique charm that helps us to manage the cold weather. Once the leaves have changed color and the days shorten, you know it won’t be long until you can see your breath.
Unless you live in a tropical zone near the equator, you may experience at least one good freeze during the winter. As you move further north or south, the temperatures dip even more. The sparkling frost on the ground might look pretty in the sunlight, but it communicates several transitions.
It is time to get the garlic planted. Any crops that haven’t yet come to fruition require an overnight covering to survive.
It is also the time to stop making cheese.
Why Is It Important to Stop Making Cheese in the Winter?
Farmers don’t take the same steps to protect their pastures as you do with your garden when the frost arrives. Once the tops of the grass die off, the quality of the food for cows, goats, and sheep steadily decrease.
It is not unusual for farmers to resort to dried hay and straw during the winter months. The roughage gets mixed with some grain to create a healthy nutritional profile for the animal.
This switch in food changes the quality of the milk you receive as a home cheesemaker.
Although milk at the store doesn’t go through a dramatic shift since the Pasteurization process takes away most of the seasonal variances, anyone using raw milk will see unwelcome changes.
Winter raw milk always produces a weaker curd, even when using ingredients to keep it firm. You’ll see higher acidity levels in the fluid, creating textural changes to your favorite cheese recipes.
It changes the flavor of your fresh cheese recipes, even if you do everything the same.
Why Not Make Camembert or Brie with Winter Milk?
The temperature outside often dictates what you can make inside your kitchen. Winter milk contains higher fat levels, which makes it an excellent choice for making Camembert or Brie at home. If you live in a climate that’s warm enough to support this work, then you should absolutely go after it.
What you’ll notice when making cheese in the winter is that temperature consistency is more challenging to maintain. Even in the protection of your kitchen, the winds outside create enough of a pressure shift to cause the warm air to rise.
That means the cold air in your home settles around where you are working. Even if you carefully observe the temperature, the chemistry that takes place in your stockpot may not meet the recipe’s expectations.
Instead of putting in all of the time and effort it takes to make cheese in these conditions, it is often easier to hang up your cheesemaking shoes until the songbirds arrive in spring.
Lactation Issues and Winter Cheesemaking
It is not unusual for commercial cheesemakers to slow or stop production in the winter months because milk supplies tend to decline.
Our global network of imports and exports reduces this issue for home cheesemakers using store-bought milk. When you use raw products from a local farm, winter may mean that there isn’t anything available to use.
This issue occurs because of the lactation period for cows, goats, and sheep. These animals do not produce milk indefinitely. It is created to support their young, which we take advantage of by turning it into food products.
Raw milk from herds of over 500 head can get staggered so that you don’t see a supply interruption. Anything from 100 head or lower is going to see winter disruptions.
Sheep rarely make it to the winter because their lactation period is significantly shorter. That’s why any fresh cheese during these months must come from stored milk.
Winter creates some significant issues for cattle when delivering milk. When less gets delivered each day in grimy circumstances, microorganisms can enter the udder through the teat canal. This issue creates an inflammatory condition called mastitis.
As the organisms multiply, the milk-producing tissues can get damaged. Some forms of it are even contagious, passed along by udder towels, milking equipment, or wash water. Antibiotic treatments can help the animal, although there is a small possibility that the medication could get into the milk supply.
Those microorganisms could also be in the raw milk supply that you use for your cheese.
Can I Use Store-Bought Milk in the Winter?
If you don’t want to give up on cheesemaking for the winter, store-bought milk may have more consistency. The curd may not be as firm, which means calcium chloride additions are necessary.
You can turn almost any store-bought milk into cheese, including lactose-free options. You just need to replace the missing ingredients with the supplies you have at home.
If you primarily use raw milk for cheesemaking, you’ll notice color and texture changes with this shift. That’s why many people decide to skip the winter.
What If I Live in a Temperate Climate?
If you live somewhere that has a climate permitting year-round farming, then a winter break from cheesemaking may not make sense. You won’t experience the feed changes or supply shortages that interrupt your work.
Many places around the world make cheese non-stop throughout the year. It is even possible in the colder regions when there is enough storage or supply staggering to create a consistent product.
You may decide to keep making cheese by shifting to Brie or Camembert because of the higher fat content in winter milk.
It is a personal choice to make cheese after the first frost comes along. The same reasons why someone might take a break can be an inspiration to start being a cheesemaker for the first time. There are no right or wrong answers here.
If you don’t mind the changes to the milk, then keep going!