Mont d’Or is revered in France almost like no other cheese is, and there’s a good reason why that is!
While many consider the Christmas Celebration season an excellent reason to be jolly, there’s certainly no need to feel glum now that it’s over for another year. That’s because there’s another season going on which, we think, is guaranteed to have the cheese-lovers of this world singing joyously as they grab their spoons for a scoop of the gloriously luscious cheese, Mont d’Or.
What is Mont d’Or? Well, for starters it’s revered in France almost like no other cheese is, and there’s a good reason why that is. More technically, it’s a lightly pressed soft cows’ milk cheese with a washed rind. It is produced between September and March each year using milk from cows on their cold-weather diet of hay and no longer producing enough milk to make the traditional large-scale cheeses such as Gruyère, Comte and Beaufort. However, this fall and winter milk, while less voluminous is also higher in protein and fat that produce richly flavoured cheeses which ripen quickly into a deliciously gooey, runny cheese with a heavy rind.
However, while the flavour might be deep, it tends to be less complex than that produced from the milk of summer-grass eating cows. And because the French are French, this would not do. So an ingenious solution was found. The practice of wrapping maturing cheeses in strips of bark was first recorded in the thirteenth century, though may well have preceded that time. Wrapping the cheeses in bark, specifically spruce bark in the case of Mont d’Or, encourages the development of different classes of flavour-forging bacteria that yield rich, creamy cheeses with complex, multi-layered flavours. It is no surprise that Mont d’Or was a firm favourite of King Henry XV. This production method is labour-intensive, which may explain why only eleven producers create this cheese today.
And the flavour. Well, it’s not just the scarcity of seasonality and production that drives the passions this cheese invokes. In the words of American food writer, David Liebowitz, “… it’s like a brain wreck of everything going on – fat, funk, fresh cream, wood, garlic, rank and a peculiar buttery sharpness scrambling all your senses together in each single mouthful. And if that description doesn’t scare you away, then you’ll be rewarded with a life-altering eating experience”.
Who could say no to that?!
The only questions now should be: what size spoon should I use, to which the answer is small because you likely won’t be able to stop once you start, and what wine should I drink with this miracle? If you can get your hands on a vin jaune, which is produced in the Jura, then all the better. In the absence of that, you’ll need a dry white wine that can stand up for itself, like Chardonnay, Gewürtztraminer, or Sancerre. Oh, and Champagne! If you fancy something else though, then perhaps a porter-style beer might be your answer.
Mont d’Or can be enjoyed as it is, or elevated to food-of-the-gods levels by wrapping the entire container securely in foil (particularly if you’re the one who usually has to clean the oven), while leaving the top open. Then poke a few holes in the golden rind with a knife, sprinkle it with a little salt and pepper, pour a glass of white wine over it, and bake it about 190ºC (375ºF) for about 20 to 30 minutes. Hiding all the spoons in the house except your own is liable to lead to wars.