Mont d'Or Info

LeMont d'Or / Vacherin du Haut-Doubs, A Bark Wrapped Cheese

Long before modern borders were established in Europe, this cheese was made in the Jura mountains just north of Geneva. All was done in sight of the high point of Mont d' Or and yes there were regional differences.

Today's version is now made in both France and Switzerland, since the geopolitical border has now been established. The actual Mont d' Or sits within the boundaries of France, but the namesake for the cheese went to Switzerland.

Today, the Swiss version of the cheese claims the name Vacherin Mont d' Or, while the same cheese in France has taken the name Vacherin du Haut Doubs.

This is a seasonal cheese made traditionally at the tail end of the milking season when the herds move back to the valleys and there is less milk to make the larger cheeses made on high pastures during summer.

The cheeses are made in various sizes and all are wrapped with what appears to be a piece of bark. The high moisture cheese body is then ripened to a 'Gooey-Goodness' over a period of several months. When ready, the top is removed and the contents can then be scooped out with a spoon onto a piece of bread. Some folks pour a touch of white wine over the top and bake the cheese for pure decadence.

What is Mont d'Or?

The Mont d'Or or Vacherin Haut-Doubs is a full fat cow milk cheese, soft, uncooked, little to no pressing, creamy consistency, and slightly salty. It is recognizable by its slightly washed rind surface showing through a light fleur or cover of white mold.

It is always encircled with a spruce strap to help keep its shape and then inserted into a spruce wood box. The strap and box are part of the appellation's production conditions. It is a flat cylindrical shape and weighs 1-8 lbs. . Its diameter varies between 4.5 and 12 inches and its height is between 1-2 inches (most of these are the smaller format).

The production and refining (afinage), have traditionally been done on the same site.

The cheese can now only be produced between August 15 and March 15, the release for consumption can only be done beginning September 10.

This soft cows’ milk cheese with a washed rind was once known as a poor cousin to Comté, although totally different in all ways. It has always been produced only when the cows had come down from the pastures to pass the winter in the valley farms, during a time when lower milk production made it impossible to produce the large rounds of Comté which require a significant quantity of milk. This cheese, earlier known as only Vacherin, was the cheese of the season.

Only seven liters of milk is required in order to produce a kilogram of the smaller Mont d’Or, versus twelve liters for a kilogram of Comté. The cheese is extremely soft and spreadable, particularly at the end of the ripening process, which is why it is traditionally presented wrapped in a spruce wood band to hold its shape.

Today the cheese is made in both France and Italy and the AOC specs are similar except that in France most of the cheese is made from raw milk, but in Switzerland it must be pasteurized.

The History of Mont d'Or

Large Alpine style cheeses (Comté) have been made for centuries in this region of the Jura plateau just northeast of Geneva and Lac Leman, focused around the geologic high point of Mont d'Or in the Juras. We can date the appearance of these cheese in this region to as early as the twelfth century. It was the dairymen/women of the Mont d'Or region who began making theses cheeses. Indeed, at this time, the high mountain pastures of the Jura plateau were cleared under the direction of the great abbeys of Saint-Claude and Montbenoît that allowed the development of livestock and dairy production. From the fourteenth century, this activity promoted the creation of fruitieres or CoOp Dairies where the milk from many herds is made into cheese.

During the summer months the larger alpine style cheeses are made from the summer pastures but in early fall, the herds begin returning to the valley farms after spending the summer in the high pastures. When the quantities of milk needed for the production of cheese were insufficient for the large cheeses, it became necessary to produce smaller cheeses from the lower quantity of milk. They called these small cows milk cheeses vacherins to match the name given to small goat cheeses (chevrotins).

Today's version (with the softness of paste when fully ripened) is thought to have originated in the Mont d’Or region of France at the beginning of the 19th Century.

Whst are the Strips of Bark on Mont d'Or?

These are not actually the bark of the fir tree, but an area between the bark and wood called the cambium layer. Each cheese is wrapped with a strip of this cambium called sangle d'épicéa. The bark is first removed from the trees and then special knives are used to cut the inner cambium layer, which is cut to size and dried.

In the area of production, there are men that specialize in the harvesting of these strips. We have managed to find a man in Vermont to produce these for us.

The famous spruce band which makes Mont d’Or such a visually striking cheese is tied around the cheese when the cheese is very young, before the rind has begun to develop. The spruce cambium serves a practical function – to hold the ripening cheese together as it develops a melting, almost liquid texture, and also imparts the most striking aromas to the cheese. An aroma of rubbed pine needles, of Christmas trees, of soft-wood resin. As the cheese ripens and this unmistakable aroma begins to develop, a thin rind starts to form – a delicate geotrichum bloom which breaks down the firm paste of the cheese, giving a creamy texture and yeasty flavor. Fluffy white molds coat the cheese and act with the geotrichum to ripen the cheese and also give the rind an undulating or crumpled appearance. Once fully ripened, Mont d’Or will have a tender, delicate rind with a powerful aroma – not just of spruce, but of cream, cauliflower and cured meat.

is Mont d'Or in America?

Yes, it was only a matter of time before artisan cheese makers in America began producing cheeses of this style.

  • In Northern Vermont Mateo and Andy Kehler of Jasper Hills have been producing their cheese Winnimere.
  • Andy Hatch from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin is producing his Rush Creek Reserve.

In a recent ACS cheese competition (the largest competition for artisan cheese makers) in 2012 at Madison WI. the Winnimere won best of show.