Winter delights

Vacherin Mont D’Or

I’m not really much of a winter person, but there are always a few things to which I look forward when the snow starts dusting the mountains, as it did for the first time this week.

Over the weekend we had a local fromage favorite which, although it is neither champagne nor whisky, goes with either (in my unrefined opinion). It can also be more traditionally eaten with either red or white wine. It’s a versatile table companion, I guess – just the way I like them.

Mont d’or cheese is a soft cheese made of cow’s milk, and comes from the Jura region along the border between France and Switzerland, about an hour from our place.

This cheese definitely falls into the category of locally-produced, non-industrial slow food. It is produced only between August and the following March, and sold only from September to May. The history has something to do with winter cows, fed only on hay, not producing enough milk to make large amounts of cheese such as Comté, and farmers making due by creating these small rounds of cheese so as not to waste the milk they had on hand. The French version is made from unpasteurized milk, the Swiss from pasteurized.

The cheese is stored in round boxes made of blanched spruce, which certainly adds to the flavor. The early cheese, in September, is still very mild and fresh, while the later, more aged cheese can develop a stronger taste.

If you don’t like smelly cheeses, but you do like cream, you’ll probably enjoy this – it is usually eaten at room temperature, or warmed in the oven, and then scooped out in spoonfuls of rich, decadent goodness. A bit like fondue, but you don’t dip anything into the cheese itself. It’s rich, thick, but fresh and tangy from the spruce wood. Aromatic without being overpowering. Despite its soft texture, it is not really anything like brie or camembert.

The reason it’s on my mind is that we had it on a recent weekend at a small party, with a number of guests who had never had it and were a bit cheese-shy. We served it by gently scoring it across the top, sprinkling a few diced shallots and a couple of tablespoons of white wine on top, and then sticking it in the oven for 15 minutes. When it came out, we put it in the middle of the table alongside a basket of bread and gave everyone a spoon. The entire box of cheese lasted about five minutes.

Some people serve it alongside a small, simple green salad, or warm peeled potatoes. I’ve read that some families spoon it onto chocolate for the kids, but we haven’t tried that variation. We are generally purists and just take our Mont d’or straight.

‘Belts’ of pine wood are placed around the fresh cheese

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