Saturday, 1 November 2014

Tis The Season for the King of Cheese! Adventures with Baked Mont d'Or

I was having lunch with a chef friend (Ah Lam's Abalone Noodles, if you were wondering) a couple of months ago.  We were talking about food trends, Gordon Ramsay's impending arrival at Marina Bay Sands (which has since been confirmed), etc.  Apropos of nothing, he suddenly became very excited.  "And Mont d'Or season is starting"!


It was only when I managed to get my hands on a few of these beauties that I realised what my friend was getting so excited about.  I love my cheese, but more often than not, they arrive on a trolley, beautifully tended and just ripe, escorted by a myriad of colourful jams, and textures of bread and biscuit.  Unwrapping this baby, and feeling the wobbly curd barely contained by its fragile prison of spruce, I had the feeling that I was dealing with something alive.

And alive it most certainly was.  Mont d'Or, commonly regarded as amongst the royalty of soft cheeses, is made from raw (i.e. unpasteurised) cow's milk.  Do not confuse it with its close cousin Vacherin Mont d'Or, which comes from Switzerland and is generally made from pasteurised milk (look for the French AOP designation on the pack).  Mine had a gorgeous soft "down" of mould, which looks a bit scary at first but won't kill you.  

It is a seasonal cheese, and according to the INAO website (the last word on all traditional French agricultural products), it first developed when farmers did not enough milk during the cooler months to make the large wheels of comte cheese, so they needed to make the smaller Mont d'Or.  Having been on this tropical island paradise for over seven years now, I love being reminded how much our lives and experience can be shaped by the seasons and the climate in which we live.

Enough about the history.  What was I going to do with it?  The answer was quite simple.  I was going to make a boîte chaude, literally a "hot box" from baking the cheese in the spruce "container" in which the cheese is ripened.  Before attempting this recipe, make sure your spruce is secured with staples, though; David Lebovitz warns that if the spruce hoop is merely glued together, the glue will melt in the heat, leaving you with a stinky goopy mess at the base of your oven.

Step 1: Wrap It

Remove the label from the box, and line the box with aluminium foil.  Make sure the foil reaches over the highest edge of the box as below so that the spruce doesn't burn, but leave the top surface of the cheese exposed.


Step 2: Flavour It

I made 10 slits reaching into the curd of the cheese, and slipped a sliver of garlic into each.  The slits are quite visible in the photo above.

Add a splash of white wine over the top.  I used Chilean Sauvignon Blanc because (a) I had a bottle lying around; (b) it is inoffensive and technically correct; and (c) you probably don't want to use a great wine as it WILL get killed by the garlic and the heat of the oven.  My friend Liz sent me a note suggesting that it would be great with a Montrachet, but then again, Liz thinks everything goes great with a Montrachet.  As she is on almost all matters wine-related, she is probably right, but I can't provide any personal affirmation because I've never had a Montrachet (hint hint).

Step 3: Bake It

25 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius did the trick for me.  Here is my precious, getting some serious oven love.


When you remove it from the oven, the rind will be intact, but the curd will be gorgeously unctuous.  When I broke the curd with a spoon, it looked something like this:


Step 4: Eat It!

Spoon the melted cheese onto good bread, and you're well on your way.  It is, in reality, a fondue-in-reverse (think cheese, white wine, garlic), without having to wash the fondue pot afterwards, but sexed up with the use of pungent raw milk cheese.

The common consensus seems to be that the vin jaune of Jura is the best match, and for me, this is probably the only acceptable use of vin jaune, apart from maybe cleaning your toilet.  I paired my Mont d'Or with a 2007 Marc Kreydenweiss "Le Moine" Pinot Gris Grand Cru Moenchberg from Alsace ($8 per bottle from the generous folks at ewineasia.com), which had enough body and length to make an impression amidst the riot of stinky cheese and garlic.


Easy yet unique, utterly delicious and undoubtedly impressive.  What more could we really ask for?  If you are looking for a source of Mont d'Or in Singapore, you can try The Cheese Shop.  If you are just too lazy to bake it yourself, Bar-Roque Grill runs it as a seasonal special, but please call ahead to check for availability.

Postscript:  Now a rant to finish this post.  My friend D, who shared this sinful repast (only around 50% fat content) with me, brought the bread from Tiong Bahru Bakery, the local outpost of French boulanger Gontran Cherrier.  

Now look, I get that M Cherrier is a handsome and fine young specimen of French manhood, but if this is the standard of bread that he bakes in Paris, he would be fermé in the time it took me to bake my Mont d'Or.  So why is it that we pay $7.50 (around US$6) for a loaf of utterly uninteresting and allegedly "artisan" bread, when Melburnians can buy a beautiful loaf of Philippa's sourdough for A$6 (around US$5.30) which tastes a bazillion times better and is a lot more filling?  

I hate to say it, Singapore, but you have once again been taken in by a label.  Maybe one day, when you learn to judge food on its own merits, as opposed to being taken in by a famous and trendy name, you will get the quality that you deserve.  Until then, you will continue to be taken for granted, overcharged for food that is the definition of mediocrity, and you will continue to reward those who barely veil their contempt for you.

Adventure No. 2: Baked Mont d'Or Stuffed with Sauteed Onions, Bacon and Garlic (8 November 2014)

Now that I've learned how to handle this raw milk jewel, I decided to undertake a slightly trickier proposition this afternoon, namely stuffing it with sauteed onions and bacon before baking it.

After dicing one and a half decent-sized white onions and sauteeing them with finely diced with chopped garlic and olive oil, I threw in four rashers-worth of chopped streaky bacon, got that lightly crisped and rendered, before stuffing the room temperature Mont d'Or with implants of porky, caramelised goodness and slivers of raw garlic.  The beauty of the ripe Mont d'Or is that it oozes back to fill in any gaps, so it assimilates whatever stuffing you are putting in, much like Arnold Vosloo's Imhotep did in the first "Mummy" movie when he was sucking the goodness out of living human beings.  A little splash of white wine over the top, half an hour later at 200 degrees Celsius and voila!


The additional treatment creates an entirely different beast.  It is less rank, sweeter due to the onions, meatier and smokier thanks to the bacon.  That said, it still makes an excellent "spread" for your bread.  To go with this, I served a salad of wild rocket and spinach leaves in a basic balsamic vinegar dressing (2.5 parts EVOO to 1 part balsamic, season to taste and shake vigorously in a jam jar to emulsify) to cut the richness, and a 2011 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshofer Riesling Spatlese, which worked beautifully with the bacon flavours.  Delicious!

2 comments:

  1. I love Mont d'Or. When we stayed in Chamonix one ski season we ate Mont d'Or fondues all the time. Luscious. Thanks for the tip on The Cheese Shop, I will check this out. I do think your criticism of TBB is a little harsh. It is stupidly expensive but the baguette at least uses non bleached flour and has some texture and flavour. I reckon it's alright anyway ;)

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  2. Hi Victoria,

    You know I never pull any punches ;)

    I'll concede TBB is better than most of the fluffy pap that passes for baguettes here, but it also charges multiples of the price.

    What irks me is that people here were so prepared to exalt TBB as some sort of purveyor of heavenly manna, and how we were supposedly so lucky that M Cherrier was gracing us with figurative crumbs from his table. TBB may be good (I put it as high as "decent"), but the reality is it ain't THAT good.

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