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Issue No. 4 - December 1998/January 1999
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Cheese focus:
Vacherin du Mont d'Or

Vacherin du Mont d'Or aufour

Farm focus:
Why is goat's milk cheese in short supply in winter?

Tools of the trade:
The hot iron

Cheese tips:
How to look after a cheese truckle

Quinta de la Rosa Port

Happy Christmas in Spanish and French

Wishing you a Merry Christmas
and a Happy new Year

Photograph of shepherds at work

Cheese focus:
Vacherin du Mont d'Or
Franche Comté, France

Photograph of Vacherin Mont d'OR

Cheese has been made in the Franche Comté since the 12th century. It was first produced in the great abbeys such as Saint-Claude and Montbenôit. Vacherin du Haut Doubs is a relatively recent addition to the local range of cheeses, having been made for a mere 200 years.

Since Vacherin du Mont d'Or was originally made the borders between France and Switzerland have fluctuated and this had led to disputes regarding the cheese's origins and rights of production. The Swiss version is made using pasteurised cows' milk and the French using unpasteurised cows' milk.

The cheese is shaped in cloth-lined moulds then encircled with a strip of spruce bark and washed with brine for at least three weeks. The spruce imparts a resinous flavour to the pale interior of the cheese which becomes almost liquid as it matures. The undulating golden crust, tinged with pink, shows faint cloth markings. Before eating the top rind is removed from the cheese and the paste spooned out. The whole cheese can also be cooked and served in the same manner as a fondue - see the recipe on the back page of this newsletter.

Vacherin du Mont d'Or first gained its AOC status on 24th March 1982 and this was modified on 29th December 1986. The AOC rules dictate that it can only be made between the 15th August, when the cows return from their mountain pastures, and 31st March. The first cheese each year is ready at the end of September and Vacherin is a popular cheese at Christmas time. AOC rules also specify areas and methods of production. On the French side of the Massif du Mont d'Or there are around 40 villages that lie above 800m, spreading from the source of the River Doubs to the Saut du Doubs. Between them they produce 1700 tonnes of cheese every year. Milk from two types of cattle are used, the Montbéliard and the Pie Rouge de l'Est. The cheese is then made into Mont d'Or in the same 20 co-operatives which produce Comté in the spring and summer.

Vacherin du Mont d'Or is available in three sizes; the smallest is 400g in weight, 4cm tall and 12cm in diameter; the next largest is 800g in weight, 4cm tall and 16cm in diameter; the largest is the cutting Vacherin which is 1.3kg in weight, 4cm tall and 30cm in diameter. All have a fat content of 50%. We generally stock the 400g version @ £6.67 but the 800g cheese can be ordered and are £12.50 each. The cheese can be enjoyed with wines such as Beaujolais Nouveau, Côtes du Jura and Champagne.


Vacherin du Mont d'Or au four

Photograph of a cooked Vacherin Mont d'Or

1 Vacherin du Mont d'Or cheese (400g)
½ glass of white wine
2 cloves of garlic

for dipping:
carrots/celery/peppers/ fennel/cucumber etc. cut into batons

1. Pour the white wine over the cheese & leave to marinate over- night

2. Cut garlic cloves in half and push the four pieces through the rind & into the paste of the cheese

3. Set oven to 200ºC/gas 6 /400ºF

4. Boil the kettle. Put the cheese, in its box and with its lid on, into a basin and add boiling water until it reaches half way up the sides of the box.

5. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes

6. Remove the box from the basin and take off its lid. Remove the skin from the top of the cheese and eat with a spoon, or dip bread and vegetables.

- Cheese Tips -
How to look after a cheese truckle

Follow these tips to ensure that your cheese truckle stays in good condition throughout Christmas and into the new year.

Drawign showing how to cut a cheese truckle

Above: The cutting sequence for a small truckle.

Cutting.The top inch of the cheese should be cut a wedge at a time. Each wedge should be about 1 inch thick. Only procede to the next layer of cheese when the final wedge has been taken from the previous layer. Always use a sharp knife and try to keep the cut as smooth and flat as possible.

Storing. Make sure that the cut surface is tightly covered with cling film. Then over-wrap the whole cheese with a damp cloth and store in a cellar, cool larder or the warmest part of the refrigerator.

Serving. If the whole cheese is to be displayed and enjoyed at the dinner table then allow it to sit for at least a couple of hours to reach room temperature. After dinner return the cheese, correctly wrapped to its storing place. If only a small piece is required then cut it from the main cheese, allowing the small piece only to warm up ready for serving. The main truckle should be re-wrapped and returned to its storing place immediately; warming and re-cooling a cheese should be kept to a minimum.

- Tools of the Trade -
The Hot Iron

One of the oldest and simplest tools used in the making of cheese is the hot iron. It consists of a metal bar which is heated and against which a piece of cheese curd is pressed. The surface of the curd sticks to the iron and as the remaining curd is pulled away thin threads appear. The length the threads achieve before breaking gives an indication as to the acid levels in the cheese curd: the longer the threads the higher the acidity.

Photograph of an Hot Iron in use

Successful cheesemaking depends upon the acid levels being controlled at all stages, from the milk through to the 12 month old cheese in the storeroom. The hot iron is in fact 'ancient history ' in cheese-making terms. It has been replaced by a small piece of laboratory equipment which gives a simple, quick and accurate measurement of acidity.

Despite the advances in technology it always raises a smile when one sees experienced cheesemakers squeeze and then toss a piece of curd into their mouths, using the acid apparatus to confirm what their senses have already told them.

Quinta de la Rosa

Photograph of bottles of port

Quinta de la Rosa, one of the finest vineyards in the Douro Valley, is situated on the banks of the river in the 'A' grade port growing area and run by the Bergqvist family who have been involved in the port trade since 1805.

See our wine section for the latest ports and wines available.


Photograph of port being poured into a decanter

See our gift department for a superb selection of decanters, corkscrews and other wine accessories.


- Farm Focus -
Why is goats' milk cheese in short supply in the winter

Drawing of three goats

The greatest demand for goats' cheese is in the winter months. Unfortunately, it is at this time that goats produce the least amount of milk. We are often asked why this is the case and why don't cows' milk cheeses suffer in the same way?

Goats, like all mammals, can only produce milk for a period after giving birth. In addition, nature and evolution have increased the chances of them raising their young successfully by giving birth in the spring when food supplies are plentiful. Goats can only mate when the female is in season. The period of oestrus lasts for one to three days, and is repeated again after twenty-one days. This cycle continues from late September until February.

After giving birth the goat can produce milk for twenty-two months after which she will need to mate again. Thus, to ensure a continuous supply of milk throughout the year, a householder with two goats will mate one and keep the other in milk for twenty-two months, mating her the following September. The same applies to commercial herds. Half the goats give birth one year and the other half the next.

This method of breeding ensures milk production throughout the year but there will still be an abundance of milk in the summer and autumn when all goats are producing milk, but a shortage in the winter when half of the goats are gradually drying out ready for kidding.

Some farms have developed ways of easing this problem by organising goat kidding is another way. One third of the goats are mated early in the season, in September, so that the kids are born in early Spring; another third are mated towards the end of the season, in January, so that the kids are born in late spring; the final third have lighting installed in their shelters so that during the long and dark nights the lighting 'fools' the goats into thinking they are enjoying the long light days of summer. When the lights are finally turned off earlier and earlier each day the goats believe that the autumn is approaching and they come into season. These goats can then be mated to produce kids in late summer.

Despite these tricks, the results are never as fruitful as if one were to work with nature. Goats which are brought into season artificially always produce less milk; during the winter months the lush spring grass is absent and goats have to feed on hay; more of the energy from their food is needed to keep themselves warm and cannot be used to produce milk.

Milk production from cows does not suffer in the same way quite simply because, in cows, the period of oestrus is repeated every twenty-one days during the whole year. Therefore, it is easier to spread calving throughout the year, which means that milk production remains consistent.

In the next issue of the Cheese Wire ....

The threat of foreign imports. Does British cheese face a gloomy future?

Drawing of title graphic of The Girls Own Paper

A question raised by the author in an article in 'The Girls Own Paper' of November 1885. Was she right?

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