There's a new category here at Lemon Tart - Cheese. I'm not sure why its taken me so long to feature a food that I am so passionate about. From my humble middle class roots of cheddar and mozzarella in the cheese bin, through to the finest cheese carts of France, I am constantly on the search for great cheese. Some might consider this passion to border on obsessive, but I'm okay with that.
While there might have been a time in my life where I toyed with veganism, cheese would have proved my downfall. Early on, I'll thank my mother for instilling in me an appreciation for the sharpest cheddars, a rarity in friends refrigerators at that time. This taste prepared me for the big, strong cheeses I favour.
Cheese experiences of my youth included summers spent in Salmon Arm, BC where my friend's family would buy large wheels of locally made aged Gouda, which became an instant favourite of mine and I still snap up whenever I come across it. As a teen, my best friends' German heritage introduced me to Havarti - known as "breakfast cheese" in her family - and a strange but alluring tradition of cheese at breakfast. Of course I've since jumped on that breakfast cheese bandwagon on my travels since. A school tour of the Armstrong cheese factory when it was indeed made in Armstrong BC, remains a clear childhood memory, where we snacked on cheese curds and saw how, almost magically, those orange blocks were created. Fast forward to a closet sized cheese shop in Vancouver many years ago with limited knowledge of the world of cheese, where with each visit I would declare "three new ones please". Cheese by cheese I learned more about what I liked and didn't, guided by fantastic professionals. Then, in 2005, I set foot for the first time in a Fromagerie in Paris, where I was speechless and overwhelmed, and felt like I had just come home. Next came one in Dijon, then Avignon, and many more since. Those heavenly Fromageries with cheeses so beautifully displayed on wooden shelves, void of plastic wrap, staffed always by the loveliest people, is where my education truly began, and continues to.
Each Christmas I await, with anticipation, the arrival of the first of the Vacherin Mont D'Or. This is a winter cheese available from about November to end of March - a perfect New Years treat! By surprise I recently happened upon a few wheels unexpectedly on the bottom shelf at my local cheesemonger, still in fantastic shape. I snapped it up, eager for one last Mont D' Or fix. The last one got gobbled up before I would even consider getting the camera out, so this was a big bonus in March.
With all this talk about eating seasonally, cheese often gets left out of the discussion. In this modern age, most cheese is being made all year round and we forget that there are certain times of the year in which some cheeses are better. There are even cheeses that are only available at certain times of the year- this is one of them.
The cheese above is made in the Franche-Comte region of Eastern France, where it is called Vacherin du Haut-Doubs, and in the Swiss Alps, where it is known as Vacherin Mont d'Or. What makes this cheese seasonal, and therefore quite unique, is that it is made from the milk of cows feeding on autumn and winter vegetation. It is a washed rind cheese, so once the cheese is formed it is washed in brine which gives it its characteristic orange colour rind. This technique inhibits the formation of harmful molds while encouraging beneficial bacteria to multiply, essential for the strong flavours and typical "stinky cheese" aroma. Vacherins are then wrapped in a band of spruce bark which flavours the cheese and helps it keep its shape because when ripe, this is a cheese that must be scooped with a spoon rather than sliced, where it will quickly become a puddle on your plate.
Mont d'Or is like no other cheese, and is one my all time favourites. Its the original stinky cheese. with barnyard-like flavours and even hints of bacon alongside the beautiful milkiness and just the right balance of saltiness from the rind. It is simply an exceptional example of the craft of cheese-making.
With its satin-like creamy texture, eating it with a spoon is a winning way to serve this cheese, with a great baguette and perhaps some nice cured meats. For something a little more dramatic, I like to bake it in the oven with wine and serve it like fondue. This impressive serving style seems perfect for cool weather and a special, yet informal, evening. With a nice selection of dipping items like boiled potatoes, hearty breads and other cheese- loving vegetables, this is my perfect meal for two. And don't forget the perfect beverage with it - Champagne. Or leave the Champagne for me and pair with a nice dry Riesling.
After being wrapped very tightly in foil, the cheese is studded with a sliced garlic clove or two and a glass of dry Riesling wine is poured on top, with holes poked all over the rind to help it along.
bout in a very hot oven and your home will smell intensely of cheese.
One quick peak at that bubbly cheese will have you salivating
like crazy and have you sharpening your fondue forks.
I will warn you that a cheese such as this with limited availability is quite expensive. Which is why I say this is a perfect dinner for two or four. You'll have to visit a specialty store for this, one that specializes in French cheeses if possible. Its worth the hunt.
Vacherin Mont D'Or Fondue
1 500g round of Vacherin Mont D'Or or Haut Daubs cheese
1/3 cup dry Riesling
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced thin
foil for wrapping
Oven: 400 F
Using a double layer of foil, wrap the wooden case of the cheese very tightly, being sure to keep the edge high enough. Some wine will inevitably leak out of the box and into the foil, so the tighter a seal you have the better chance most of it will still end up in the cheese.
Make slits in the rind of the cheese and insert garlic slices throughout. Then take a toothpick, skewer or fork and poke the rind liberally all over the cheese.
Place foil wrapped cheese on a oven proof baking sheet or casserole dish. Slowly pour in the wine, re poking some of the holes as you pour to coax the wine into the cheese. Place the lid of the of cheese loosely on top of the cheese.
Bake until bubbly and melted through. This should take about 30 minutes.
Serve with cubes of bread, I especially like hearty whole wheat sourdough as well as fruit and nut breads. Vegetables that are good with this cheese are cauliflower, new potatoes, cooked mushrooms, endive or romaine heart leaves and green beans. Basically anything that goes nicely with cheese.
When ready to eat, carefully lift off the top rind with a fork and get eating!
If the cheese starts to cool down and become less silky, pop in the oven for 5-10 minutes to reheat.