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robyn

Vacherin in Paris

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Undoubtedly, contemporary cheeses are a little safer and a little more consistent, but a bit less interesting than they used to be.

Bux, thanks for this detailed reminder of the Epoisse saga. Your words apply with equal relevence to wine. For me, the elusive "wow" factor in food and drink needn't describe some radically new and expensive perfection, but rather the sensation that occurs when something that's usually ordinary raises your eyebrows. There may be real flaws in the equation, but, most importantly, there is identity. I prefer an uncertain relative excellence to a totally predictable, and therefore boring, perfection. (Perfect is another word for dead.)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Perhaps you can answer a query about Vacherin Mont D'Or for me. While perusing a cheese board recently I pointed to what I thought was a VM'O and asked for some only to be told that "That's not Vacherin Mont D'Or. It's Mont D'Or. They are two completely different cheeses"

I was a bit stunned. Not only by potentially not being right :-p but because the waiter was so rude! Who's right?

where was that?

i don't think you've been to pearl but that's exactly the sort of comment i'd expect from them.

i first had mont d'or at an egullet do at chez bruce and it has remained a favourite ever since, although i struggle to buy it outside of london. Until a recent caterer feature on it i too was unaware that there were two varieties.

i also had another incident with vacherin, in chez georges in paris i could see no mention of cheese but vacherin was on the menu. I assumed it was the cheese and ordered it only to be given a meringue based desert. Eventually it was swapped for a cheese selection.

cheers

gary


you don't win friends with salad

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A friend of mine who's a customs officer in LA (uh...now it's "The Deptartment of Homeland Security"...whatever), said that as long as you're not bringing in quantities that are obviously for resale, like a few hundred pound of raw milk cheeses, it's not a problem. Last time I returned from France with a big bag of cheese, I told the customer, I mean, Department of Homeland Security officer at SFO who just waved me through when I told him.

I live in Paris, and my fromager told me they're no longer going to carry the French Mont d'Or, since the quality was getting bad (true: each one I've had in years past was tough and never ripened). The Swiss are much better at it they told me. I did see Mont d'Or cheeses in New York this fall, so people are getting them in.

David Lebovitz


Edited by David Lebovitz (log)

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i also had another incident with vacherin, in chez georges in paris i could see no mention of cheese but vacherin was on the menu. I assumed it was the cheese and ordered it only to be given a meringue based desert.

In a Parisian context, vacherin is a meringue-based dessert. A composition of ice cream or sherbet, meringue, whipped cream and sometimes fresh fruit. Personally I would not have swapped it :raz:

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You may disagree with the implication that artisanal products made with "love," but that's not what I implied. From my point of view, they are made with care by professional craftsman. Love of what you are doing doesn't make you an artisan. Pride has something to do with it, but skill is what makes a person an artisan. The factory producer is the one more likely to cut corners for profit. The larger the scale of operation the greater the incentive to save a few cents on each cheese. There is no question that pasteurization will kill bacteria in contaminated milk. There's no question that it's much more expensive to keep the milk free from contamination. Raw milk cheeses are therefor likely to be more expensive...

My only point was small producer doesn't always equal good - and big producer doesn't always equal bad.

As for what you wrote about the Epoisses incident - I've read a lot of messages like that here before. E.g., "everything in life is a risk - I'm willing to take a risk to get a great cheese, great oyster, great [fill in the blank]". As a lawyer - I've found that people - at least in the US - don't generally put their money where their mouth is when it comes to risk. Everything is fine until they get hurt - and - when they get hurt - even if they've signed all kinds of releases ahead of time - they sue (or try to sue - some industries - like the skiing industry in Colorado - have made it very difficult). And the fault isn't in the legal system - it's in the nature of the people who live in the US. If we get hurt - someone else has to be at fault - so someone has to pay.

If I were a small outfit in France making great cheese - why would I want to sell something that's even a little risky over the internet to people in the US (especially if I had a lawyer telling me that if I sold over the internet to someone in the US - I'd be subject to a lawsuit in the US - the last probably being the truth if you sell to someone in Florida). And I'm sure there'd be a lawyer somewhere willing to sue the government under the Tort Claims Act (think this is the right statute) if someone brought a "risky" cheese through customs and got sick after eating it. Wouldn't be willing to predict the outcome of such a case though. Robyn

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My only point was small producer doesn't always equal good - and big producer doesn't always equal bad.

There are few, if any, absolutes, but a product made with care and attention by a craftsman with pride in his work, is likley to be better and more reliable than one made by a businessman interested in fast profits. There are in fact, economies of scale that would enable some practices including those that might make a safer product, to be employed at a larger factory. In practice, I will place my trust not necessarily in the smaller producer, but in the one who excercises greater care and interest.

The producers of the tainted cheese in France, were apparently convicted of criminal charges -- a fate perhaps more severe than being the subject of a civil suit.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I live in Paris, and my fromager told me they're no longer going to carry the French Mont d'Or, since the quality was getting bad (true: each one I've had in years past was tough and never ripened). The Swiss are much better at it they told me.

David Lebovitz

Interesting. As I said before we had a Mont D'Or (French) from Alleose New Year's but a Vacherin Mont D'Or (Swiss) last night from La Fromagerie de Montmartre, #9 Rue du POTEAU, now called Quatrehomme, and it was leagues better than the French.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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I'd like to add some comments about Vacherin Mont d'Or:

I' remember the hygienic problems of Swiss raw milk Mont d'Or in the late 80ies (two or three letal incidents here). After that, the process of "thermisation" (opposed to "pasteurization") was introduced, where the raw milk is heated to ~140F for 15 seconds, whereas pasteurization requires the elimination of virtually all pathogenic microorganisms (and others) and is usually done with 165F for 30 seconds (consumer milk).

The quality difference to the French product is astonishing (I never had French, though), OTOH I remember M. Chirac ostentativly eating raw milk French Mont d' Or in front of TV cameras ( :wink: ) when the Swiss authorities ordered a sale stop of Swiss raw milk Vacherin.

Some more information is given on this in the Vacherin Mont d'Or homepage. I heartily recommend the Mont d'Or "oven fondue" in the recipe section. BTW, in the "Joux" valley where the Vacherin Mont d'Or is coming from is also the place of some production locations of the most famous watch brands (Patek, Audemars, you name it)

Today, Vacherin Mont d'Or experiences some interesting competition from the eastern, German part of Switzerland running under names like "Girenbader Senneflade" or "Försterchäs" (made by small local dairies) which achieve the same level of quality as the original.


Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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The quality difference to the French product is astonishing (I never had French, though)

Some French mont-d'or are better than others, some Swiss mont-d'or are just the same. As a rule I fail to see the difference between Swiss and French mont-d'or. They're the same traditional cheese, made in the same region. Vacherin fribourgeois, on the other hand, is very different.

There were sanitary problems with mont-d'or a few years ago (I don't remember if it was Swiss or French cheeses), but it came out that they were caused not by the milk but by the thin ring of larchwood that holds the cheese together.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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I had a French raw milk Vacherin that I bought from a tiny shop in the Nice old town. It's as much a poultry place as a cheese one. La Poulette is the name. They don't age themselves the 20-30 variety of cheeses they sell. Two days later I bought a French Vacherin from the famous cheese shop in Cannes, Ceneri, that had the store's label affixed on the box. It was clearly inferior to the one I bought in Nice. It reinforced my hypothesis that Ceneri puts out its cheeses too soon. Unfortunately I didn't have the time to order a French Vacherin from the great Bernard Antony, whose cheeses are impeccable. The moral of the story is that an affineur can mess up a cheese, and it is not always the cheese per se or the provenance of the cheese that totally accounts for its quality. Nonetheless, I will go back to trying a pasteurized Vacherin du Mont d'Or if I am in France before the season ends in March.

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It reinforced my hypothesis that Ceneri puts out its cheeses too soon.

In know lovers of young, almost firm V. Mont d'Or ( :shock: ) and lovers of very mature one: ammoniac-ic, almost liquid and with a warped crust.

There are families, where the damarcation line is running across the home. The good cheese shops (the numbers are heavily in decline due to supermarkets here) offer- just like with Emmental or Gruyère - young and mature ones, so divided household do buy both versions according to indivdual taste.


Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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I just read this thread and wanted to say that I did find Vacherin Haut-Rive in the LA area this spring (for $45 a box :blink: ). I also saw Vacherin in Del Mar, CA at Aniata Cheese Company in December.

The Haut-Rive was excellent, just as good as the Vacherin Mont D'Or I ordered from fromages.com last year. According to "The Cheese Plate" by Max McCalman, Haut-Rive is pasteurized; I suspect the one I received from fromages.com was pasteurized, as well.

I'm anxiously looking forward to trying the raw milk version in France this November!

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I'm in Paris right now and having a difficult time finding what I consider a great Vacherin. In the past, at home, I've ordered Vacherin from fromages.com and purchased it at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. All have been wonderful -- pungent, flavorful, superbly runny, slightly barn-yardy. It's one of my favorite cheeses.

So, imagine my disappointment when I arrive in Paris and find myself buying mild Vacherins lacking what I love most about them. The first one I bought (because I couldn't help myself) was at the Grande Epicerie. Yes, perhaps not one of the top cheesestores, which is what I consoled myself with after we bit into a slightly rubbery, boring cheese. We ate it, but it wasn't what I consider Vacherin. It was labeled as Mont D'Or AOC au lait cru. Next stop was Marie-Anne Cantin. I asked if the Vacherin was strong. No, the salesgirl said, Vacherin is not strong and, yes, it's the season. We bought some; it was much better than the previous, but still lacking the "quintessential" Vacherin/Mont D'Or flavor I love. (As a side note, Cantin did not have any Camembert! At all!)

So, am I wrong about Vacherin? Is there just a wide range for what real Vacherin tastes like? Can anyone recommend somewhere in Paris to buy what I'm looking for? I'm planning on buying cheese at Barthelemy to take home and am not sure whether I should consider purchasing any Vacherin.

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Vacherin is not supposed to be strong. It is supposed to be creamy and mild, very soft and "cliff-hanging" but not runny. Runny is for époisses and saint-marcellin, runny and strong is for époisses, but the "quintessential" state of vacherin is a very mild state with a hint of sourness. When bought in wedges and kept in the fridge, it does collapse in the wrapping paper, and you scrape it off the paper to eat it. But it shouldn't be bought in that state.

The over-aged vacherin you're accustomed to is an indiosyncrasy, and some people may like it that way, but in France that's not the way it's eaten. You're unlikely to find a vacherin to your liking in Paris unless you age it yourself.

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Thank you very much, Ptipois. Very interesting!

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Have you tried BARTHELEMY ?


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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It's early in the season. Vacherin hasn't reached its peak. In fact, degustibus asked Bernard Antony (Affineur to the Stars) about getting some vacherin fermier for this weekend and he told him that he didn't deem it ready just yet. Anyway I like it unctuous; i.e. best dished out with a spoon.

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Vacherin is not supposed to be strong. It is supposed to be creamy and mild, very soft and "cliff-hanging" but not runny. Runny is for époisses and saint-marcellin, runny and strong is for époisses, but the "quintessential" state of vacherin is a very mild state with a hint of sourness. When bought in wedges and kept in the fridge, it does collapse in the wrapping paper, and you scrape it off the paper to eat it. But it shouldn't be bought in that state.

The over-aged vacherin you're accustomed to is an indiosyncrasy, and some people may like it that way, but in France that's not the way it's eaten. You're unlikely to find a vacherin to your liking in Paris unless you age it yourself.

De gustibus non est disputandum.

I think you've touched on an important subject for a web site that brings together people whose only shared interest is a love of food. I may not llike my meat as well done as my friend does, even if we share the same taste in wines and restaurants.

To a great extent, taste is developed. Few people claim to love olives the first time they've had them. Caviar, thank goodness, also seems to be a taste one has to learn. One generally "learns" one's tastes from the group one belongs to or the group in which one would like to belong.

When it comes to cheese, I've met people who will swear a properly aged camembert should be a little chalky in the middle and others who swear by runny camemberts. I don't want to make national generalizations, but I've only heard a Frenchman say it was ideal when still a bit chalky in the center. I think Americans tend to overemphasize ripeness largely because the kinds of cheeses that ripen have traditionally been rare here. We are best known for "American cheese," a "dead" product that doesn't age and has remarkable shelf..., sorry, I can't bring myself to say "shelflife" in the context of a product that is really the zombie of the cheeseworld--a form of cheese that lives an artificial afterlife. There's no value judgment here. I like horror films. Even zombies have their place.

I tend to like my Vacherins riper than average, as long as there's no hint of amonia. I trust gastronomes are in agreement on that. Once a cheese offers a whiff of amonia, it's over the hill and that's an absolute, with the possible exception of chèvres. I've been told by connoisseurs of cheese that for some, goat cheeses are never over the hill.

There are those who will argue with good reason, that the taste of Frenchmen, and women, should prevail here. I'm glad that Ptipois doesn't. Her information and point is valid however. When enjoying food by yourself, your taste is king. When serving food to others, it's good to have some idea of their tastes and perhaps a better ides of an accepted standard, assuming there is a valid and widespread standard. The French people I know, don't seem to mind runny Vacherin, but they are not local to the region in which Vacherin is made. It may well be that even in France the standard is regional.

Robert Brown's points are well made as personal--"he didn't deem it ready" and "I like it unctuous"--and not as absuolutes although speaking of respected gastronomes.

Chac'un a son gout.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Bux, that is an excellent summary of what we should all keep in mind when posting here. Your wisdom is priceless. Thank you.

We recenly had a nice conversation that included many details about Vacherin Mont d'Or Here.

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We were served a lovely Mont d'or a couple of weeks ago at dinner in the home of French friends. Yes, by spoon. It was well beyond chalkiness, but had no hint of ammonia. I asked where they had found it, and they said that the cheese purveyer at their weekly village market untypically sold quite superior and properly aged cheeses. He has a market for and therefore brings special cheese that he knows he will easily sell.


eGullet member #80.

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When it comes to cheese, I've met people who will swear a properly aged camembert should be a little chalky in the middle and others who swear by runny camemberts.

As a Norman, the granddaughter of camembert-loving Vikings, I can testify that what you say is true. Good camembert should "hold itself in place", with a wee bit of chalk left in the middle. A crust tinged with yellow or red lines is a good sign. Runny camembert is for Parisians, which is not derogatory, and only means that cheeses seem to be appreciated in a runnier state in Paris than in their regions of origin. With the exception of saint-marcellin the Lyonnais way, running to the edge of the plate. However, you will notice that runny saint-marcellin has a mild taste. It is pretty much the same with vacherin mont-d'or when it's properly aged: even when very runny, it is very mild in taste. Whatever individual tastes may dictate, a runny vacherin that has more than a creamy and sourish taste, with a nice hint of mushroomy flavor from the bark that surrounds it, is considered overripe by French standards.

I think Americans tend to overemphasize ripeness largely because the kinds of cheeses that ripen have traditionally been rare here.

I have noticed that. I also think it is part of the general Americain over-romanticizing about French stuff, on the principle that the stronger and runnier it is, the Frenchier it is. It actually is not so, as far as Frenchness is concerned. Liking it that way or another is a different matter.

I tend to like my Vacherins riper than average, as long as there's no hint of amonia. I trust gastronomes are in agreement on that. Once a cheese offers a whiff of amonia, it's over the hill and that's an absolute, with the possible exception of chèvres. I've been told by connoisseurs of cheese that for some, goat cheeses are never over the hill.

I have seen some Corsican people enjoy their ewe's milk cheeses with a definite taste of ammonia. So far, they are the only people I have seen with that characteristic. I also have been served a clearly offensive époisses, which nearly made everybody pass out, but the one man who enjoyed its ammonia taste was also known for drinking himself half-dead at every opportunity, so I assumed this was another example of his craving for excess.

There are those who will argue with good reason, that the taste of Frenchmen, and women, should prevail here. I'm glad that Ptipois doesn't.

Well, I think there is such a thing as individual tastes and also that there is such a thing as ideal conditions and a standard for most types of cheeses. Both are equally valid and deserve to be discussed. Individuality is interesting; so is culture. Chesterton wrote about Bleak House that it was Dickens' best book, while probably not being his best novel. He described it as a "mature" work, but then added that "some people like mature potatoes and some people like new potatoes, so "mature" doesn't necessarily means "superior".

As for the taste of Frenchmen and Frenchwomen, there are no definite lines there either. Many French people, including me, don't like strong cheeses. Some like very mature cheeses but do not like roquefort; I like roquefort, etc.

The French people I know, don't seem to mind runny Vacherin, but they are not local to the region in which Vacherin is made. It may well be that even in France the standard is regional.

Vacherin is a special matter because it tends to become runny very fast. This is why the mild taste prevails generally: the cheese runs before the "strong" taste can develop. The reason it is often sold in small boxes is to keep it from running, the problem being that it is trickier to age a mont-d'or properly when the box is too small. I think the perfect conditioning for vacherin is the traditional large wheel, cut into wedges. A lot of plastic wrap is necessary to sell the wedges safely. You'll notice that the wedges will have a strong bulge on each side even if the cheese is still young. Also, "unctuous" seems to be the right word to describe good vacherin. It is a very elastic cheese and doesn't run "liquid" like other cheeses. The term "cliff hanging", which I forged for it, speaks to me. I like to compare the sides of a nice wedge of vacherin to an Egyptian cornice.

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