Cheese University (XVI): Mont d’Or

Mont d'Or

Here’s a to a winter cheese, production starts on 15th August and is allowed until 15th March but it is sold only from September through May. As a costumer in Paris you only see it when the cold season really has begun – and it is, in fact, a product so rich and creamy that you wouldn’t really think of having it on a hot summer night. It comes in a box made of spruce where it ripens and it is held together by a band of the same wood which adds some aroma and fragrance to the cheese that you can call by the two names

Mont d’Or or Vacherin du haut Doubs

Both names mean the same: a proud, full-fat cheese with 45 grams of fat per 100 grams (minimum!), made of raw cow’s milk, actually exclusively made of the milk of Montbéliard cows. Further, the cheese has to be processed up in the mountains, at an altitude of 700 meters or more – which, in fact, doesn’t pose too many problems. It is sort of a soft mountain cheese, coming from the Jura range, from the Franco-Swiss border, from the department of Doubs.

It is disc-shaped, as you can see, yet there’s a great variety in size and weight. The “smaller” pieces weigh 480 grams up to 1.3 kg, the bigger ones 2 to 3.2 kg. It can boast – whether it’s called Mont d’Or or Vacherin du haut Doubs – with an Appellation d’Origine Controlée, the label was granted in 1981 and imposes strict rules that you, as students of the Cheese University, already know: they’re about processing, heating, coagulating, about how the curd has to be treated and how long the ageing process has to be. There’s a strictly respected map of the AOC region and, of course, a romantic past that might go way back, although first written documents mention the cheese not before the 18th century (so it is, compared to many other French cheese products, almost a rookie).

A dozen or so producers work this cheese, some 4000 tons were produced in 2005. Depending on the affineur and his priorities and style, the Mont d’Or can be as soft as thick cream or as firm as a Camembert. Vendors who sell it in parts wrap it in plastic film which is to be considered untraditional and wrong, I’d say. You should buy the whole thing, a wonderful cheese-in-the-box with a pâte of pale ivory and a rind as wrinkled as the skin of your beloved, smiling grandmother. You can eat it as it is, with just a piece of any bread. But you could heat it, too, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing to do, believe me.

In fact, this cheese turns into a full dinner, even a bucolic feast, when you turn it into a fondue. I know, it sounds barbaric but it’s great at the same time even if some people would consider it a sin. It’s as simple as that: you heat your oven to 180℃ (350℉), you put in the cheese (complete with its wooden box wrapped in alumium foil) for 30 to 40 minutes. In the meantime, you cook some of the best small potatoes you can find on your farmer’s market, you fill a platter with prosciutto, salami, other premium cold cuts and some mixed pickles, cornichons, what have you – and once the cheese is hot and good, you dip the potatoes in. Beware, you’ll need spoons, because the cheese will be really runny. But you’ll never forget this, I promise. You’ll feel like a character from a Rabelais novel, a real gourmand.

Wine? Frankly, that’s a tough one. Some guides see it with Champagne, I’m not sure. A Gewurztraminer could work, a not-so-sec Riesling, a Beaujolais…You’ll better find out for yourself.

The video attached shows Mont d’Or/Vacherin’s making-of. A bit boring, I agree; but that’s craftsmanship: unheroic, persistent, unselfish work.


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