October 12, 2021 4 min read
Vacherin at its best courtesy of @thecheeseexplorer
Although seen by most as a Christmas cheese, Vacherin Mont D’Or begins to be made on August 15th and its season lasts until the last production date on March 15th. This means there is a far longer part of the year in which to enjoy its oozing creamy goodness. After maturing for about 6 weeks, our first cheeses are ready to hit the counters at the beginning of October. There are a few different Vacherin producers, but we choose to work with the Sancey Richard family for the quality of their cheese and we will explain some of the features that makes their cheeses stand out.
OCTOBER CHEESE OF THE MONTH SELECTION
Vacherin curd draining in the moulds
Simply, in our opinion, the best Vacherin Mont D’Or. These cheeses have the perfect balance of piney spruce, nutty, cooling, savoury paste and a texture that softens to spoonable, decadent creaminess. Scroll down to find out why we love the Sancey Richard cheeses so much.
Cantal curd in the traditional wooden gerle it is made in.
Geraud Delors’ Cantal made with the milk of his Salers herd near Reccoules, Auvergne. The Salers cow cannot give milk without her calf present so they stay with their mothers for the first milking season until they are weaned, receiving a quarter of the milk she produces. A combination of the richness of their milk and the natural lactic acid bacteria that ripen the milk makes this cheese a bold, savoury, meaty cheese with a red berry acidity and elements of warm spice.
Made with a mixture of ewes and cows milk, the recipe for 1924 harks back to an era before the Roquefort AOC stipulated the cheese had to be made with sheeps milk only. Until the AOC was created in 1925, farmers could use whatever milk they had. Some local cheeses were made with cows milk, some with a blend of sheep & cows milk, as well as those made entirely from Lacaune sheeps milk. Roquefort today is matured at low temperatures for a long time whereas earlier recipes would mature at warmer temperatures a process replicated where these cheeses are matured at our caves near Roanne. The result is a firmer textured cheese with a more savoury flavour. We usually find notes of sweet buttery biscuit, white chocolate on occasions and mineral herbal notes.
Petit Blaja curd from varying days maturity mixed together before moulding.
Petit Blaja is an unusual lactic goats cheese recipe made in the Haute-Garonne department of the Midi-Pyrénées. Three different batches of curd that have been drained and matured over several days are folded together like a cake mix. This method produces a cheese of standout acidity, giving an extraordinary structure and length to its flavour: fluffy and zesty in the centre with a buttery breakdown at the edge.
WHAT MAKES THE SANCEY RICHARD VACHERINS STAND OUT?
There are 10 producers of Vacherin and Sancey Richard are the smallest, accounting for 2% of all the Vacherin production. They are the only private, family run producer left with the other 9 being co-operatives.
There are a few production steps which sets their cheese apart. The first of these is to ripen their evening milk at 12C overnight where the other producers chill their milk to 4C. The higher temperature allows the naturally present lactic acid bacteria to get to work before the starter cultures are added the following morning and this extra time for acidification allows the cheeses to have greater flavour potential.
The next key difference is after the curd is set, when the cut particles are stirred in the whey in the vat. Sancey Richard are the only producer who stir their curds and whey by hand. The other producers use mechanical stirrers and it is a continuous process. The Sancey Richard team pause stirring and allow the curd to settle before starting again after a rest period. The effect of stirring is to form a pellicule or sealed edge to the curd particles. If the curd is stirred continuously, the skin is formed more quickly and seals in more moisture. The effect of this as the cheeses mature is that they will develop the characteristic creamy texture too quickly and before the flavour has had chance to develop. The pauses in the Sancey Richard cheesemaking means that more moisture is released into the whey before the pellicule completely forms. Their cheeses mature between 6 to 8 weeks so the texture is relaxing to smooth creaminess after the flavour has had chance to develop.
Vacherin is made quickly with the cheeses ready to have spruce bands applied the same morning. Sancey Richard work with 3 local Jura spruce producers and bands are of varying thickness. They make sure that if there is a thinner batch that they are doubled up so the amount of influence on the flavour from the spruce is constant.
Finally their cheeses are larger than others available. The Sancey Richard team deliberately make cheeses that need to be squeezed into the boxes and in order to do this, they cut a slit in the bottom of the cheese to make it easier to manipulate. This means not only do you get a larger cheese for your money but it creates an attractive, undulating crust which they have chosen to accentuate in imitation of the Jura mountains in the area where the cheese is made.
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