So the Mont d’Or season is upon us, the cheese mongers and supermarkets alike are flooded with the cheese, and everyone with a self image of being some sort of cheese connoisseur run to shop as if there is an upcoming shortage. As with most hyped things this acts like a fad. So as the new year enters, and probably long before that – who thinks of Mont d’Or for Christmas? – It is all forgotten, even though the season lasts till early May. Most people, me included, heats it in the oven and eats it like a mini fondue. It’s probably natural. Autumn has arrived, it’s getting darker, cooler, wetter. We need a cosy atmosphere, and a warm Mont d’Or fits in handy. If you want to do the most of it, after all it is the season for red wine, do it the Burgundy way with a red Savigny-les-Beaune or Rully in the glass. A bit of bread, some charcuterie, perhaps?
Mont d’Or from France or Switzerland?
First let’s clarify a few things. Mont d’Or is a washed rind cheese, not so heavily washed though. It can be Swiss, in which case it is called Vacherin Mont d’Or and is made with termised cows’ milk. Some say the milk is pasteurised, that is, however, not allowed. If the cheese is French, the correct name is Vacherin du Haut-Doubs and is made with raw cows’ milk. At least in France it cannot be made at a lower altitude than 700 meters above sea level. In everyday speech both varieties are referred to as Mont d’Or.
Other vacherin cheeses – for the variation I mean
Vacherin? Originally meaning it’s a cow’s milk cheese. Vache meaning cow in French. But vacherin does not necessarily mean a cows’ milk cheese anymore; or perhaps it does; Vacherin d’Areche is now called Plancherin d’Areche, a wonderful Mont d’Or style goats’ milk cheese. Very local cheese from the Beaufortin valley of Savoie. Made by a young woman, Carolyn Joguet at her farm 1300 meters above sea level where the goats roam the mountains up to 2300 meters above sea level. While Mont d’Or is a winter cheese, this is a summer cheese.
Another one coming from the Pyrenées, the Loubieres area in Occitanie, is Cabri Ariegeois. A wonderful cheese. Also in a wooden box. Like the Vacherin d’Areche, it has more character than the “original”. Well worth searching out. Both these are made with goats’ milk, but there is still another made with ewe’s milk, called Claousou. Mind you, it may also be called Le Claousou or Lou Claousou. Different shape as it is oval, but otherwise same principle. Comes from Hures la Parade in the Cévennes mountains which is part of Le Massif Central. If you can get hold of all four, which will not be an easy task as the season varies for these cheeses, but it would just be wonderful to compare. The second best is to taste them one by one whenever they are in season. That’s what I have done. And I do indeed recommend them.
If you happen to be in Norway there are a couple of Norwegian variants as well, made of pasteurised cows’ milk, but still well worth tasting. Granstubben is one, Jærsk Havsletteost the other. The former with the traditional spruce strap, the latter rather alternative with seaweed around the waist. Prepare them the same way as Mont d’Or.
Why is Mont d’Or a seasonal winter’s cheese?
During spring and summer cheeses were absolutely being made in the Alps in the Jura area. Using the fine pastures and the plentiful milk, the small farmers decided to join forces and create local co-operatives. By using the milk from many farms they could make a large cheese that could subsequently be aged to last through the winter season: that’s the cheeses we know as Comté and Gruyère, from the French and Swiss side of the border respectively. (Read more at the Courtyard dairy). During winter it was hard to bring the milk to town, so they made cheese at home, in addition to having less milk, the protein/fat ratio changed making the milk less suitable for making a firm cheese and all the more suitable for a soft cheese like the Mont d’Or. So the farmers adapted to the natural changes following seasons and lactation status.
A cheese with a history?
There is no general agreement about how long this cheese has been made and how it originated other than what I have written above, the French say that the first written proof of a cheese with a spruce strap (sangle) is from 1280. If so, it has been around for a while.