The milk in Mont-d'or comes from a rather special breed of cow, the Montbéliarde, and the cheese is redolent with the resinous scent of spruce. It's made in the area known as the haut Doubs, the place which regularly records the coldest temperatures in France. The Montbéliarde cow has a white head and red ears, an excellent milker which gives us not just Mont-d'Or, but also comté, vacherin, morbier and bleu de Sassenage. Vacherin-mont d'or is an AOC Swiss cheese, Mont-d'or and vacherin du haut Doubs are French cheeses made from raw milk, with a squidgy middle and a brined crust which obtained an AOC in 1981.
A box of Mont-d'or with a friend.The practice of sending the cows up into the mountains to graze on the flower and herb rich grass is known as transhumance. Many places make a real carnival parade out of walking the cows up from the village or farm to where they will spend the summer. In mid August the cows come back to their sheds (summer doesn't last very long here!). This is the time when their milk production starts to slow, and is no longer sufficient to make large hard cheeses such as comté. In the 18th century the farmers came up with the idea of making smaller cheeses, named Mont d'Or after the highest peak in the area. Now there is only one family left, the Mamets, who are involved in the whole process from milking the cows to making the cheese on the farm, allowing them to uniquely label their product fermier.
Immediately after milking, the milk, at 35°C, is tipped into vats and left to mature for an hour with lacto-bacteria and rennet, which makes curds. The curd is cut into big cubes, encouraging the discharge of whey. Everything is stirred and the curd comes together and water eliminated. The cheese is then put into moulds, pressed then removed from the moulds and strapped up in spruce bands, which impart a slight woody taste. Then they are plunged into a brine bath and stored in a cave on spruce planks. For three weeks they are turned and rubbed with salty water. Then they are left to develop a crust and mature for 6 weeks. The diameter of the cheese is just slightly bigger than the spruce box they get packaged in, so when they are forced into the box the creamy cheese buckles and undulates - just like the Jura mountains it comes from.
It is quite common for people to serve Mont-d'or a little warm, by putting it in the oven, box and all, but the producers disapprove of this practice, saying it breaks down the aromas. They recommend it is consumed at room temperature, with a good wine. Many people like to cut a cross in the top and dip fruit into the soft cheese.
Source: Régal No38.