Vacherin Mont d'Or is a special seasonal cheese made in both France and Switzerland, and only available between mid-September and March. The cheese is made from the winter milk of cows that have been brought down from their pastures for the season. It is related to other mountain cheeses, such as Emmentaler and Gruyere, but made in much smaller rounds and also treated differently, so that the cheese is almost liquid when fully ripe.
Some Vacherin Mont d'Or is under a protected origin designation, which means that it is produced in a particular region of Switzerland, the Canton de Vaud. A series of very strict requirements govern how it can be made, processed, and handled, and the cheese produced will be carefully monitored by an independent certifying party to ensure that it is of the highest possibly quality.
This type of cheese comes in a special round pine box with a layer of waxed paper over it. When pulled out, the cheese in enclosed by a birch strip called a sangle, and a velvety red rind. Experts recommend that Vacherin Mont d'Or be allowed to breathe at room temperature for several hours before diners carve off the inedible rind and scoop out the soft cheese inside. It is a very delicate cheese and should be kept very cold in storage before being consumed.
Vacherin Mont d'Or sometimes appears on its own as a dessert cheese, or spread on crackers and fruit. It is sometimes added to salads or served as part of the main course, particularly served with small, delicate fingerling potatoes. Some chefs also roast the cheese, serving it hot and gooey directly out of the rind.
Both pasteurized and unpasteurized milks, depending on the region, are used to make this variety of cheese. The milk is curdled by introducing rennet and heating the mixture, and the curds are packed into tall cylindrical molds with holes in them so that the whey can drain out. After the cheese has firmed slightly, it is cut into rounds, which are encircled with the traditional sangles and moved into a cheese cave to ripen. During the ripening phases, the rounds are turned daily and brushed with a brine solution. After one month, the cheese is ready for sale and is boxed.
Vacherin Mont d'Or is a very unique cheese, with an almost runny consistency and a rich, creamy flavor. The sangle and subsequent pine box lend it a slightly astringent, forest-like flavor that is considered by many to be delicious and quite distinctive. Cheese consumers interested in exploring new and interesting flavors will likely greatly enjoy this special variety.