Monday, 26 March 2012
Cheese of the Month - Vacherin Mont d'Or
Sometimes it can be irritating when the taste of a foodstuff fails to live up to its aroma. Coffee is often the biggest offender in this regard - the smell of fresh coffee is one of life's great pleasures, all roasty and chocolatey and lovely, and yet (in my very limited experience; I've not touched the stuff for many years thanks to a caffeine allergy) in the mouth it has a horrible habit of turning into bitter swampwater. Some cheeses, too, have a bark bigger than their bite - Epoisses is generally quite a mild-tasting cheese, creamy and mildly funky in its unpasteurised way but nothing anything like the extraordinary smell of a properly aged specimen would indicate.
It is to the benefit of humanity as a species, however, that this Vacherin Mont d'Or doesn't taste like it smells, because the odour is just atrocious. Past merely funky, it has the deep, soily, ammonia-rich stink of a rotting corpse, as offensively rank as almost anything else I've ever known in my life. It was so powerful, after just a couple of hours in the fridge it had started attacking everything I'd stored in there - through triple and quadruple-wrapped clingfilm the smell permeated leftover bacon, lettuce, orange juice and milk. I'd know from my bedroom whenever my flatmate opened the fridge because five minutes later the chemical bomb would hit, having travelled up a flight of stairs and through a closed door. It is a smell that, if encountered in nature, would suggest some kind of terminal disease, and yet in my geeky cheese-loving way I find myself fascinated by it, simultaneously repulsed and attracted.
Fortunately, oh so fortunately, the taste is something else entirely. In true stinky washed-rind soft-cheese fashion, it is creamy and salty and ever-so-slightly sweet, a gloriously well-balanced flavour and dangerously addictive. The unpasteurised milk means that a trace (though only a trace thank God) of the aforementioned soily ammonia travels through to the flesh, adding extra farmy complexity, and the texture at room temperature is just runny enough to require the use of a spoon but not so liquid that it doesn't hold some shape on a plate. Scooping great big wobbly mounds of it onto crackers and devouring them whole is an unadulterated joy.
I'm told that production of Vacherin Mont d'Or runs only until 15th March, which means that this very special cheese won't be gracing your local cheesemonger with its stench for much longer. It may also explain why the one I had was quite so pongy, as presumably earlier in the season the noxious chemicals in the flesh aren't quite so, er, lively. But actually, part of the fun - and it is great fun - of having a Vacherin in the house is that you are constantly reminded of its presence; it's sort of like taking temporary care of a neighbour's flatulent pet - it's a commitment undertaken to a living, breathing organism. If you can handle it, and if you have suitably understanding co-habitors, the rewards are potentially immense.