Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vacherin Mont d'Or

One of the great things about cheese is its seasonality; just as the goats cheeses are winding down (after all, even goats need to go on maternity leave), new cheeses are starting to come into season. Over the last few weeks we’ve some notable, and very welcome, new arrivals in the shop – of particular interest are the first of the 2011 Beaufort d’Alpage, and one of my long time favourites, Vacherin Mont d’Or (or Vacherin de Haut Doubs - depending on origin).

A baked Mont d'Or, fresh out of the oven

Vacherin is a great example of how the huge variety of cheeses often results from the overcoming of some fairly mundane logistical issues. Mont d'Or is the cheese made with the last ebbs of the milk from the Montbéliarde cows that have been busy making milk for large wheels of Comté in the Alpine pastures all spring. This is their warm down when they aren't producing enough milk to make a big cheese.

In a quirk of the cow lactation cycle (I'll spare you the majority of the details) the quantity of milk produced towards the end of the year is significantly reduced compared to spring and early summer, however, it is very rich. This, combined with the hay-heavy diets that the cows enjoy as they relax in their sheds, gives a milk high in protein and fat content that is perfect for making the brilliantly runny Vacherin Mont d'Or.

Once the cheese has been made, it's wrapped in a spruce belt to help keep its shape and impart a woody flavour. The young cheese is also washed regularly during the early stages of its life which gives rise to the orangey red rind and the ever-so-slight sharpness to the taste.
After the first few weeks of washing, the young cheese is forced into its box where it is aged until creamy enough to sell. This squeezing process leads to the characteristic undulating, barely restrained surface.

A Montbéliarde cow
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montb%C3%A9liarde_cattle

So there are basically two traditional ways of eating this cheese – cold, for which read room temperature, and hot. Either way, the goal is to be eating this bad boy with a spoon. There are a number of different sizes available, so pick the one best suited to your number of guests or your appetite.


For eating cold, you’ll want to be sure that it’s as ripe as possible, this might be difficult at the early end of the season. Have a feel of it yourself if you can, you should be looking for hints of a very gooey centre. If not, try and get one from a reliable cheese monger. Given my current work place you might not be surprised to learn that I would recommend that you get yours from one of the MonS shops (either in les Halles in Lyon or at Borough market in London). Given that the cheese is in a box, it does take a while to reach room temperature, so make sure that it's out of the fridge at least an hour in advance.
There is a traditional approach to the preparation of this cheese for inclusion on a cheese plate, involving much cutting. Next time I bring one home, I'll take some photos and walk you through the process. To be honest though, you can't go far wrong armed simply with a spoon and an appetite (and maybe some crusty bread and a glass of wine).

Vacherin is in my opinion at its best when eaten hot though, in the style of a mini-fondue from the centre of the table with friends and wine.
  • Remove all packaging leaving just the cheese in its box with the lid to one side, the cheese should already be at room temperature otherwise it will take forever to cook
  • Gently rub white wine into the rind, a tablespoon at a time, until you think it just can't take any more
  • Put the lid on and wrap the shut box in aluminium foil
  • Bake the cheese in an oven pre-heated to 180C for 20 minutes.
  • Remove the cheese and test for done-ness, i.e. is it hot all the way through, if not, return to the oven until it is
  • Once hot, serve with bread, or boiled potatoes, charcuterie, some salad and cornichons.

4 comments:

  1. I am amazed that Vacherin is produced from the same starting point as Comte. Amazed!

    Om nom nom nom nom though

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  2. I know! But then, cheese is amazing like that. I'm planning to write some more on exactly that point in a future post.

    And yes, om nom nom nom nom.

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  3. To eat cold but runny, how long should/can I leave it out of the fridge?

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    1. That's a tough one to answer without seeing the cheese as it all depends on how mature the cheese is. Generally, they can stand to be at room temperature for a fair while though. Try pressing on the surface and see whether it feels very creamy underneath. If not, you can usually leave it out 24 or so hours to help it on a bit...

      If there is a fair amount of give already (underneath the rind feels runny rather than springy, you should still allow about an hour for the cheese to warm up to room temperature and to be at its creamy best.

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