Timing is everything. We stopped in at Murray's Cheese on Friday afternoon after a meeting to pick up some cheese for some recipes we are working through. Since we were there we decided to pick up some cheeses for dinner. We took a number and began perusing the case while we waited. Our usual routine for a cheese dinner is to pick up three cheeses: one runny, one creamy, and one semi soft. Our number was called quickly and we began to discuss with our cheese monger.
Interestingly there was a chef on line before us who chose to wait for another cheese guy and waved us ahead. As it turned out, our guy was personable and enthusiastic, although not the most knowledgeable of the counter people. No matter, our favorite cheese monger was absent and we were confident that we could find what we were looking for. As we discussed cheeses, it turned out that what we wanted was right in front of us. I noticed a few round containers stacked in the back of the display and nudged Alex immediately. "Is that..." It was, the first Vacherin Mont d'Or of the season. So new in fact that our guy hadn't even realized that is was there. Someone else mentioned that they had arrived only hours beforehand and that they expected to be sold out by the end of the day. Score. It was the perfect cheese to be the centerpiece of our dinner. Expensive as heck and totally worth the splurge.
As a side note, although the sign in the case stated that it was a raw milk cheese, the cashier informed us that it was actually thermalised. According to the Mont d"Or website the term is actually thermised. Although they don't go into detail it appears that the milk is gently heat treated in some way to reduce bacteria while preserving flavor.
Once home we let the cheese sit out for almost 24 hours because something came up and dinner had to be postponed. As luck would have it that appeared to be exactly the amount of time needed for the Vacherin to reach its peak. When we opened the cheese and lifted off the top rind it was thing of beauty. Perfectly tempered and elastic, it was soft enough for a spoon and still firm enough to give it some plasticity and texture. The flavor was earthy and slightly salty, with a pungent, almost ashy savor reminiscent of French Meunster (another favorite of mine). We had a crusty, almost blackened loaf of Sullivan St. Bakery Pane Pugliese, a salad of crunchy romaine and marinated artichoke hearts, prosciutto cotto, and an American-made Serrano style Ham whose name escapes me (and isn't on the label from Murray's). Frankly I pretty much focused in on the cheese, bread, and salad. The rest was gravy. A perfect cheese is a beautiful thing. It was definitely a meal to remember.