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Why is everyone in France talking about Mont d’Or cheese today?

Mont d’Or cheese is a French treasure you can only find at a specific time of the year. But why's that?

Why is everyone in France talking about Mont d’Or cheese today?
A Mont d'Or cheese. Photo: AFP

Today is the day!

September 10th marks the beginning of the sale of the famous Mont d’Or cheese in France.

This rich cheese with a rich history borrows its name from the highest point of the Doubs département (located in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in Eastern France) and goes way back since it was already mentioned in the 1280 Encyclopédie des Fromages (the Cheese Encyclopeadia).  

 

You can also find it under the name Vacherin, but rather in Switzerland than in its original region.

Though it is much loved, the Mont d’Or cheese is also much awaited as it can only be savoured from September 10th to May. Here’s why.

A seasonal cheese

The Mont d’Or was first created after peasants looked to create a smaller cheese with their “winter milk”, as the production was reduced during the coldest months. A raw milk that, according to the Fromagerie La Ferté, gives it a “texture that offers a soft and creamy consistency without being too runny”.

It can only be produced from August 15th to March 31st, hence why its appearances in dairies are seasonal.

Consequently, it became a winter cheese and could not be produced in the summer since it can’t handle hot temperatures. During spring and summer, where milk is more abundant, Comté cheese is made. 

READ ALSO: This is how much the French are obsessed with cheese

Specific production process

But other than being unobtainable during the sunny months, its making process also follows a list of specifications since it has both the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée and the Appelation d’Origine Protégée.

These designations attest to the authenticity of the product and of the savoir-faire of its producers while protecting its name not only in France but in the entire European Union.

The Mont d’Or can then only be produced in a designated area of 95 Haut-Doubs municipalities – all at least 700 metres above sea level – and made at of raw milk from grass-fed Montbeliarde or French Simmental herds.

A woman cutting the spruce straps that circle the Mont d'Or cheese. Photo: AFP

The cheese is also supported by a circle of spruce wood to provide it from running. After at least a 12-day maturing (during which the cheese is scrubbed daily with salted water), the Mont d’Or terminates its ripening process in a slightly smaller spruce box that gives it its wrinkled crust as a nod to the mountain it took its name from.

But these many specificities do not prevent producers from delivering (on average) 5,500 tonnes of Mont d’Or each year.

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CHEESE

‘Fondue is Swiss… the French just don’t know how to make it’

The World Fondue Championships are underway in Switzerland and even before the winner has been named tensions are running high between the Swiss and the French over what cheese goes into a fondue.

'Fondue is Swiss... the French just don't know how to make it'
Photo: Depositphotos

Some 120 competitors are literally stirring the pot this week in Tartegnin, in the Canton of Vaud, trying to create the world’s best fondue recipe.

And while the contestants come from several countries, the battle of the cheeses is mainly between the Swiss — who invented the fondue in the 1930s — and the French, who also like to claim supremacy over this hearty wintertime dish.

Creating the perfect fondue recipe is no simple matter, it seems, as many important decisions have to be made. Among them — what cheese and what wine should be used?

“This is a serious matter, we are not here to kid around”, said Jérôme Lefevre, one of the jurors in charge of designating the 2019 world fondue champion.

 Lefevre is Swiss, but when it comes to fondues, he is not neutral.

“The fondue is Swiss. The French don’t know how to make it. Cheeses must come from the Gruyère region and have no holes. In France, they use cheese with holes”, he told FranceInfo.

But apart from the obligation to use real Gruyère cheese, competitors are free to innovate. Each contestant has his or her own technique and ingredients. “The secret of good fondue is to take the time,” one participant said. “Our secret is the wooden spatula, always the same one to turn the fondue, and always in the same direction”.

Another competitor noted that “the secret of good fondue is first and foremost a good cheese, and then, it’s training, training, training. We are confident we have a good mix with some secret ingredients, such as smoked whiskey”.

Stéphane Jayet, the chairman of the organizing committee, said that even though the competition is all about the fondue, it is far from cheesy.

READ MORE:

AFP

“We must be credible in everything we do, from the choice of jury members to the reception of visitors”, he said.

Some 10,000 people are expected to attend this event, which takes place over three days.

And now for the real question: what is the difference between Swiss and French fondue?

First, the similarities: both are prepared in a special pot called “caquelon” and stirred while cooked. Often, white wine and sometimes a bit of Kirsch are added. When ready, it is eaten by dipping pieces of white bread into the cheese with long-stemmed forks.

The main difference lies in the kind of cheeses used. In Switzerland, the main ingredients are Gruyère and vacherin from Fribourg, in equal parts (it is called, fittingly, ‘moitié – moitié’).

In France, it is often made from French cheeses like Comté, Beaufort and Emmental – which is the recipe for the classic Fondue Savoyarde, from the Alpine region of Savoie. 

However, in both countries cheeses and recipes may vary according to the region.

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