Every year we eagerly await the arrival of Vacherin Haut-Doubs – for us it is the true signpost that autumn has begun. Made with the very same Montbéliarde cattle's milk used to produce our aged Comté d'Estive, it is remarkable to taste the difference between the two cheeses. While the Vacherin curds remain lovely and rich, one will notice the paler colour; following the first autumn snows the cows move down from Alpage pastures into winter valleys, and their feed changes – from summer flora of rich flowers and grasses to dry haylage and silage – subtly fading the rich golden hues.
The season for these traditional handmade cheeses is short; they arrived to us just over a week ago from the Jura and will be produced until March. For the past few days we have been hard at work in our maturing rooms, washing each of them by hand in Arbois wine – encouraging the growth of natural moulds which deepen the flavour of the pate. As the cheeses ripen the billowy rind takes on a mellow pinky peach colour. Each wheel is wrapped in a collar of bark harvested from local spruce forests, imbuing the cheeses with resonant sappy depths.
Perfect at room temperature with the upper rind removed, but perhaps ideal baked with some steamed potatoes for dipping. (Check out Patricia's book The Cheese Room for a lovely recipe.)