A seasonal cheese, only made in Autumn and Winter, thanks to the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, who determines the regulations for making cheese in France. It can only be sold from Sept 10, after it has matured for three weeks. The origins are hard to trace. Andy Swinscoe explains:”As early as the 13th century there are records that cheeses encircled in wood were being made in the Haut-Doubs and Vaud regions. At this time Monks were still leading the cheesemaking crusade, and although there is no doubt that cheese was being made in The Alps before then – the monks were at the forefront of pioneering dairy farming and cheesemaking as we know it today. Clearing high pastures in the Alps, the monks created great swathes of land for high grazing in the summer to produce rich milk.
With this rich Alpine milk the majority of cheeses were produced in spring and summer, as after the spring calving, kidding, and lambing, the animals go out on the most abundant and plush pasture and produce the best (and most milk): Hence, cheese was made as a way of preserving this milk for the leaner months.
But Mont d’Or isn’t even made in the summer, with it’s production being focused around autumn and winter.
This is because throughout the spring and summer, cheeses were being made in these high Alps in the Franche-Comte (the Doubs is a department in the Franche-Comte region). Using the fine pastures and the plentiful milk, small farmers decided to pool their milk and create local cooperatives or fruitières. Here, using the milk of many farms, they could make a large cheese that could then be aged to last them through the sinter: and so Gruyère and Comté were created.
But as summer ended the roads to the fruitière where the cheese was being made would often become inaccessible with snow. Couple this with colder weather (Gruyère and Comté are made from heating the curd up to a high temperature), and the fact the cows are reaching the end of their lactation and coming off the rich mountain pastures down into the valley. This would mean their milk becomes richer in fat and there is less of it to go around, this type of milk is better to make a smaller, softer cheese.*
Hence each farm would make a small cheese, in colder conditions that is quite rich and soft – perfect for their fatty milk. In fact, so rich and soft it would often have to be strapped up to stop it collapsing. They decided to do this with a product they could find locally all over the Alps – spruce bark, which imparts a resinous flavour to the cheese.
After being strapped in spruce bark the cheese is lightly-washed to encourage it to ripen (for 15 days). It helps that the Franche-Comte is also known for it’s salt mines, this salty washing solution helped create the dappled orange, and white fluffy rind (you can eat this rind – it’s edible!). After washing, Vacherin is squeezed into it’s characteristic spruce box, then aged – for a minimum of 21 days in total. Although I prefer them matured to 6-8 weeks to allow the unctuosity and rich, piney flavours to develop.
Vacherin Mont d’Or is made this traditional way as it has been for many centuries (it was even recorded in letters to Parmentier in 1799). That is why it is nice that the seasonality remains, and as per the AOC is can only be made in the department of Doubs (in France) and the Vaud (in Switzerland) at altitudes of seven hundred plus meters.
The French version of Vacherin Mont d’Or is also still made using exclusively unpasteurised milk (Swiss is pasteurised) from traditional breeds of cows (Montbéliarde ou French Simmental). In 2009, eleven makers remained in France, of which Sancey Richard (Fromagerie du Mont d’Or) is perhaps the finest.”
I used David Leibovitz recipe to bake my cheese. It was a warm hug in a box enjoyed with baguette. His recipe says serves 4, but two of us had no problem finishing this beautiful cheese.