Next month a soft celebration will happen in France. Mais oui – this is the only time of year the remarkable Mont d’Or cheese (Golden Peak – also called Vacherin Mont d’Or ) is available. For those who lament the onset of cooler weather, many balance their feelings by embracing autumn with a quick trip to their favorite cheese shop. Alas, they have awaited this treasure for several months – a small AOC “Mont D’or”, carefully belted with spruce bark that is only available from September to April.
Renowned for the luxurious taste and treasured tradition, the cheese enjoys a storied history and even represents a center of contention. While summer hikers thread their way across the Jura mountains, local farmers herd their cows up to the grassy pastures. The summer grazing leads to considerable milk production and – voila! – ultimately to large wheels of Gruyère de Comté. Why? Milk can spoil. Until I read the story, I hadn’t thought about trying to transport that volume of milk down the mountains. The large cheese wheels are the answer.
In the autumn and winter, though, the cows laze in warm barns in the valley, fed on dried mountain grasses. Milk production drops off, and smaller cheeses are created. A handful of producers deliver the raw milk to a select group of affineurs (finishers), who then refine the cheese, according to strict AOC standards. There’s Edy and Jean-Pierre, René and Serge – to name a few of these distinguished cheese artisans. And each will tell you their favorite uses of the cheese – cold or warm (but of course – fondue!), over potatoes, in a Cordon Bleu dish or stuffed in avocados.
Need I even suggest, if you are in France between November and April, you stop by the fromagerie to request Mont d’Or? Bon Appetit!
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