Cultivation of a Cheesemonger

A Blog of Cheese Culture and Cultures

Fine Vacherin is Available Again

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“There is a cheese produced with such high regard for tradition that it is only available from September to April. Welcome to the unique world of Vacherin Mont d’Or.”

~ the official Swiss site for Vacherin Mont-d’Or

The cheese is produced in the period from August 15th to March 15th and may only be sold to consumers between 10 September and 10 May.

Culture

This seasonal limitation is due to the fact that, traditionally, the cows were brought down from the Jura mountains to spend the winter in the stables.  This form of pastoralism or nomadism organized around the migration of livestock between mountain pastures in warm seasons and lower altitudes the rest of the year is called transhumance; and this tradition is still maintained in Switzerland today.  When the grazing season is over, the Montbéliarde and Simmental cows are kept indoors and are fed hay, silage and grain and are generally in the second stage of lactation, giving less milk and producing milk rich in fat.  What makes Vacherin Mont d’Or unique is that unlike most of the other major cheeses of the world, which achieve their depth of flavor from spring and summer milk (considered the creamiest and most desireable), this cheese is exclusively made from the milk of cows fed on cold-weather vegetation.

Production

Vacherin Mont-d’Or Switzerland AOC is a soft cheese made from whole raw cow’s milk.  The milk is quickly curdled with animal rennet at the same temperature of the milk inside the udders (more than 33 °C).  Quick renneting time, together with the high fat content of the milk, results in ‘soft’ curds. The cheese is lightly washed with a brine solution and develops a creamy consistency that is white to ivory in color with a  yellow to light brown rind.  The minimum maturation period is 21 days from the day of renneting.  Immediately after the cheese is removed from its forms/ hoops, it is ringed with a spruce band and placed in a spruce box.  Local woodworking expertise led to the production of soft bands made of stretched bark from spruce trees native to the area.

The cheese continues to mature in the box and takes on a wrinkled appearance. The pine wood band also serves to give the cheese its characteristic woody flavor.  The band and the box are an integral part of the production requirements for the designation of origin ‘Mont d’Or’.  The size of the box must comply with certain rules.  Each cheese is in the form of a flat cylinder and its weight, including the box, ranges from 480 grams to 3.2 kilograms

Tradtionally, Vacherin Mont d’Or  is made from raw milk, but there is some that is produced with thermised milk and mixed with cultures of lactic acid bacteria to comply with USFDA cheese importing regulations.  Also, modern production techniques have further reduced renneting time by increasing the renneting temperature.  However, the pine box still serves to conserve the moist, fatty cheese.

Fast Facts

Origin: Switzerland — Vaud
Type: Cow’s milk, pasteurized and unpasteurized; very soft; washed rind (edible)
Availability: Illegal for export to U.S. (raw cow’s milk cheese aged less than 60 days); pasteurized versions are exported to U.S., but rare
Form: Varies from saucer-size to dinner plate-sized rounds; always in lidded wooden box
Dimensions: 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick, 9 inches in diameter; also 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick, 4 to 5 inches in diameter
Weight: 5 to 7 lbs. (2 1/2 to 31/2 k); also smaller rounds, 1 lb. (500 g)
Fat Content: 45%
Characteristics: Wavy, reddish-beige, velvety rind; supple texture; big, fruity, faintly raw, woodsy, buttery flavor with slight bite; unique aroma (smells like new leather); thin strip of resinous bark encircling rind contributes balsamy flavor and aroma
Appropriate Wines: Swiss and French Vacherins improve the flavor of many less than-big light, fruity wines, such as Beaujolais, Swiss Fendant, Dole; Alsatian Resling, Tokay, or Muscat
Related Cheeses: French Vacherin du Haut-Doubs (also called Vacherin Mont d’Or); no other cheese is quite like it, although French Reblochon is similar

 

Vallée de Joux, Switzerland

Affineurs in the Vallée de Joux selected to age and refine the cheese

Resources

http://www.myvalleedejoux.ch/en/gastronomy/vacherinmontdoren

http://www.vacherin-montdor.ch/en

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/602685/transhumance

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2012:302:0016:0023:EN:PDF

Cheese Primer. Steven Jenkins. Workman Publishing Co., New York, New York. 1996

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