As the much-loved Mont d’Or cheese comes back into season in France, we look at why it is only available in autumn, and some ideas on how to enjoy it best.
What is Mont d’Or?
Mont d’Or (also known as Vacherin Mont d’Or or Vacherin Haut-Doubs) is a cow’s milk cheese from Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.
It has a long history, and the French Encyclopaedia of Cheese (yes, this exists!) says that written references to Mont d’Or have been found to date from as early as 1280.
The cheese is named after the highest peak in the department of Doubs, the 1,461-metre summit of Mont d’Or, in the Jura.
In the 18th century, the cheese was a favourite of King Louis XV, and official cheesemakers included it in their inventory as a “cheese otherwise known as cream, because of its flavour and its soft consistency".
By 1980, the cheese had been given Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée status, and in 1996, Appellation d’Origine Protégée status was added. These mean that there are strict guidelines on where and how the cheese can be made, and only the genuine produce can be labelled as Mont d’Or.
Only 400 dairy producers are registered to make Mont d'Or.
The cheese is matured for 21 days in a round, wooden box, and wrapped in spruce leaves. Each day, they are turned and rubbed with salt water.
Why is it seasonal?
Production of the cheese is said to have started when monks living in the mountain cleared space to allow for fruit trees to be planted and cows to graze.
The cheese is seasonal because it depends on where the cows are allowed to graze, which depends on the weather and seasons. When the first snows started to fall on the highest peaks in late August, the cows would be brought down to graze in lower fields.
This meant that milk production dropped, so cheesemakers would make smaller cheeses, such as Mont d’Or, in the cooler winter months.
In contrast, the cows would graze in the high altitudes in the summertime, and their milk was then used to make large wheels of Comté and Gruyère.
Mont d’Or can only come from two kinds of cow: the Montbéliarde and Simmental. Each cow must have access to a hectare of grass each, at a minimum altitude of 700m. They must be milked twice a day at regular times, and the milk processed within 24 hours maximum.
The cows must be fed hay in winter and graze grass in summer. Fermented fodder is forbidden, and the quantity of supplementary cereals allowed is limited.
When is the season?
Mont d’Or production now runs from August 15 to March 15. The first cheeses are available for sale on September 10 and are sold until May 10.
Mont d’Or is now known for being synonymous with the turning of the seasons and the beginning of autumn in France.
More than 5,000 tonnes of cheese are sold every year, equating to nine million boxes.
In 2022, the cheese came in 26th place on a list of the ‘100 Best Cheeses in the World’.
What are some of the best ways to eat Mont d’Or?
Perfectly ripe Mont d’Or has a soft, creamy texture that can be eaten straight from the box.
You can also wrap the cheese in foil, place it back in its wooden crate and bake in the oven for around 20 minutes at 180C. This creates a gooey texture, perfect for dipping into with bread or vegetables, like a type of fondue.
Some also like to add garlic, a splash of wine, herbs such as rosemary, or black pepper, before baking.
Mont d’Or can also be cooked with potatoes, for flavours reminiscent of the mountain favourite raclette.
The food magazine Delicious recommends boiling potatoes for 15 minutes and setting them aside, and cutting the top off the cheese and baking it whole in the oven still in its box, before serving with mini gherkins (cornichons), the cooked potatoes, and “chunks” of bread.
The cheese is also known to go well with autumnal fruits (such as pears), nuts, and mushrooms.