I have a new cheese friend. His name is Andrew Benton-he and his brother are the co-owners of “Benton Brothers” cheese which has three locations in Vancouver: Kerrisdale, Cambie street and Granville Island. I can’t tell you how bizarrely satisfying it is to “geek out” about cheese with another fromagological fiend. My next several cheeses come from Benton Brothers, and today I sample one labelled as “Andrew’s favourite,” which is a pretty tall claim as this man has-at any given time-several hundred cheeses as his disposal.
Vacherin Mont D’Or is a washed rind raw milk cow cheese from France. Or from Switzerland. This is confusing. It’s only made in the Massif du Mont D’Or near the French-Swiss border, and has AOC status -it seems that both Switzerland and France are duking it out to be able to claim this cheese. Both make it, but only Switzerland has the right to call it “Vacherin Mont D’or.” France creates an identical cheese called “Vacherin Haut-Doubs”, but unofficially is also called Vacherin Mont D’or. My little cheese is labelled Vacherin Mont D’Or, but is also claiming to be French! Actually, the Swiss version is pasteurized and the French version isn’t, so I think my little slice here must be French as it is also raw milk. Mystery solved. This here is a naughty little slice of Vacherin Haut Dobbs claiming to be Vacherin Mont D’OR, but who can blame it?
These cheeses are produced only in the winter and spring, and are a limited cheese item. After being taken out of the molds the cheese is wrapped in a strip of spruce before being aged on a spruce board. Each cheese is flipped and rubbed with brine. Vacherin Mont d’Or is purchased in its own little box in which the ripening continues. I’m pretty sure you don’t eat the spruce bark, you actually spoon this cheese out and smear it on things, it’s just wet and gooey.
Vacherin Mont D’or is made from the milk of cows brought down from their summer pastures. In the summer these same cows produce milk used to make Emmental and Gruyere. This was traditionally a smaller winter cheese made to deal with this milk. Another cheese legend (and I do love a cheese legend) states that the tradition of Vacherin came from the making of Chevrotin, a goat’s cheese. Cow’s milk was substituted for goat during a goat shortage, and this is the cow version that was created. Who knows? A goat shortage? Is such a thing even possible?
The Canadian government requires this cheese to be put into quarantine, and tested for Listeria. Because of this and its short shelf life, it’s a miracle this cheese has made it to me. What a survivor! If you see this cheese, go out and buy it, it may be your last chance!
This is actually quite a heinous looking cheese. The longer it sits on its little wrapper warming up from the chilly confines of the fridge, the more it starts to seep towards me…it’s actually crawling slowly, as though it has a life of its own. Actually, it does have a life of its own, teeming with delicious-yet Canadian government approved-bacteria. Mmmmm. The rind is white, and there is a thick black spruce band around the outside. This one’s going to be eaten with a spoon. Apparently, some people use it as a self-fondue, just dipping things in the middle, no need to heat it up! The smell is relatively faint for a washed rind cheese. I don’t smell spruce, but I do smell ammonia and teenager feet.
Oh, I just got little shivers up and down my arm-that’s a first. God, this is good! The taste is much more subtle than the smell, it’s pretty mellow and tastes like the forest, like rolling around under trees with mushrooms and a really, really good friend! It’s got a wild woods taste. It’s almost other worldly. It’s not offensive in the least, it’s subtle yet delicious, full of umami and mystery! The texture is insane, it’s actually wet and sticky and practically adheres to your teeth. I’m going to be licking my teeth for a couple of days.I’m not sure how you would actually serve this except with spoons. The self-fondue thing is making more sense to me now.
AOK, Andrew Benton, I get it, this is a fabulous little cheese! Go out and buy some now, before it’s all gone. Don’t share it! Hide in a corner with a spoon and your Vacherin Mont D’Or and thank me in the morning.