Type: Soft Washed Rind
Milk: Raw cow's milk
Animal breed: Montbeliard, Simmental
Size of cheese: 12cm
Location: Metabief, Franche-Comte
Season: October to March
Vacherin is a soft washed rind cheese produced only from mid August until mid March in the mountainous Franche-Comte, Eastern France. It originated as a domestic cheese, born of necessity. For most of the year, milk from farms in the Jura mountains would have been collected by Comte making co-operatives, to make that hefty, hard cheese. But in the winter, the Franche-Comte is often the coldest region in France and the first Autumn snows would have stopped small farmers from transporting their milk to the co-operative, obliging them to produce a simpler recipe - small soft cheeses which could be made every day in their chalet kitchen.
The Jura is a densely forested region, where the relationship between cheesemaker and forester goes back centuries. Cheesemakers would have until relatively recently needed large quantities of wood fuel to produce cooked-curd recipes, and the resulting cheeses would often be exchanged in payment for wood. While the use of wood fuel is now extremely rare in cheesemaking, the Vacherin recipe maintains this relationship to the forest. Each year spruce-cutters, nicknamed sangliers,descend on the Jurato cut the strips of spruce bark (sangles) which are wrapped around the cheeses like a corset, holding them together as they mature on spruce shelves and giving the cheese its light, resinous, pine flavour. It is said that spruce trees have fashioned the Vacherin recipe as much as the cheese itself has contributed to the cultivation of the regions forests.
Rich, earthy, sweet and, well, sprucey, this is a cheese which is as delicious at room temperature as it is baked in the oven. Either way you eat it, we recommend trying it alongside Cotes du Jura wine, or the distinctive spicy notes of Vin Jaune