WHAT IS VACHERIN?
This fromage is known as Vacherin Mont d’Or or Vacherin du Haut-Doubs. It is a cow’s milk, washed rind cheese that is in the brie family. A creamy cheese, when mature and at room temperature Vacherin can almost be eaten like a fondue.
Today this cheese is made in both France and Switzerland. Some producers use raw, other pasteurized and a few even use thermalized milk (pasteurized at a more leisurely pace with lower heat but just as safe). Vacherin in general is served in a circular spruce box with an open top (showing off its golden crust). Both Switzerland and France require that the cheese be made at a minimum elevation of 700 meters (2100 feet). But unlike the Swiss, the French still make a raw milk version as well as pasteurized.
WHERE IS VACHERIN MADE?
The chicken and egg dilemma applies to this cheese, which came first the Swiss or the French vacherin? Before you take this question lightly, I’ve literally seen French people punch each other over disagreements on French philosophers in a bar. Imagine what they would do over a wheel of cheese?! The answer changes depending on if you ask a Swiss or French person. The safest answer is that vacherin originated from the mountains on the border of France and Switzerland.
IF COWS ARE LITERALLY PISSING MILK IN THE SPRING AND SUMMER, WHY IS VACHERIN A WINTER CHEESE?
This rather crude phrase is how my father described lactation in the cheese industry. At the end of summer when cows were coming back down from their pastures, their food was still rich but there was less milk to go around. The resulting higher fat content made this type of milk more appropriate for fatty, softer cheeses like Vacherin. With milk from August through November being used, 1.5 months later you get this delicious cheese!
WHAT CAN I PAIR WITH VACHERIN?
Eric Asimov of the NY Times suggests a 15 to 20 year old auslese riesling. For the less wine endowed, in general a dry white, sparkling wines or Gewurtzraminer tend to work. Full bodied Pinot or red Burgundy wines can also provide a pleasant contrast. In terms of complements, some nice raw fruit (apples, pears) nutty or whole wheat bread can be a lot of fun. For cheese flights, stay away from other washed rind cheeses. For a nice visual contrast, a goat’s milk Saint Maure ash-covered log and a slice of Mimolette will work. Or go for a more international cheese tour and try a goat’s milk Humboldt Fog and a sheep’s milk Idiazabal.