Vacherin - eat the rind?
- Melanie Wong
. . . more cheese stuff.
I received an early Christmas present when friends just back from Paris left a message that I had a 5-day window to come over for dinner. The cheese lady in Paris said their Vacherin would peak in that time.
We needed a spoon to serve it and, of course, it was wonderful. I found the velvety rind perfectly edible, and the rind touching the birch wood hoop had a wonderful smoked bacon flavor. But I've heard that one doesn't eat the rind of Vacherin and wonder why that might be. Maybe it interferes with the spoonable runniness of the rest of the cheese?
Btw, wine of the night was the 92 Bernard Morey Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru "Embrazées" from my hosts' cellar. This one didn't suffer from the hot alcoholic sensation of much of the vintage, even though it weighed in at 13+%. Still has plenty of fresh acidity to slice through the cheese and the earthy complexity of its village. Excellent and fully mature.
Vacherin is often eaten spread on boiled potatoes or bread, so I guess that's why the rind isn't usually eaten. I don't think there's any reason why you couldn't eat it, though. The strip of wood should be spruce bark--the Vacherin du Mont d'Or (aka Vacherin du Haut-Doubs) is also cured on a spruce board.
How was the Chassagne-Montrachet with the cheese?
re: Leslie Brenner
Yes, thanks for the correction. I was thinking bark and typed birch (musta been those elementary school tales of birch bark canoes). Spruce makes sense --- this was aromatic and imparted a coniferous forest essence to the cheese.
A ripe Vacherin is a thing of beauty to behold. Wavy reddish brown-mottled yet still velvety top rind, the sides bulging against the bark band that can barely constrain it, and the way the whole thing jiggles when you touch it.
This one was purchased from Marie Cantin in Paris - I have not been to this fromagerie but my friends are loyalists. they'd been told to cut off the top rind before serving with a spoon but we couldn't bear to waste any of it. We also had a delicious cremier St. Marcellin which was made from mixed milks, not just cow's. Both cheeses were served with bread with our salad course (the first baby winter greens from their garden) after we'd gorged on Dungeness crab doused with melted french butter.
I had not given my hosts much notice of my availability, like calling at 4pm and saying I'm free tonight. To make it easier on them, I offered to pick up a couple of live crabs (from the Egg Basket in Fulton) and jokingly suggested they chill a coupla buttery chards so that we wouldn't need to serve any butter with the crabs. Not an option with this couple, whose primary mission in this vacation seemed to be to bring back dairy products.
Rod did pull out two Chardonnays for our steamed crabs but these were hardly butterballs. The 1984 Gaja "Gaia & Reye" Chardonnay VdTavola, 375 ml, (a souvenir of a honeymoon visit to the estate in 1986) was served at cellar temperature because he said it had been made with skin contact and might be more akin to a red wine. It was indeed very darkly colored (brassy gold verging on light amber) and phenolicky in aroma. But the more surprising scent was brine shrimp! We stepped away from the kitchen and the steaming crabs to make sure it was coming from the wine. With aeration this became less fishy and melded toward a salty minerality that was interesting with the crab. Made with no malolactic, the green apple acidity was still bracing even after all these years. Lots of character, still holding together and an intellectually challenging wine, but not really that attractive an experiment. This was gone by the time we got to the cheese course.
The second wine, 1992 Bernard Morey Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru "Embrazées" was intriguing for its refinement, not at all like the many fat, alcoholic and fading white burgs I've tasted from this vintage, and is the only Les Embrazées I can remember encountering. Only a whisper of well-integrated oak (toasty hazelnuts), a creamy leesiness rather than butter, and the subtle complexity of fruity and mineral that B. Morey has mastered. Very restrained and not overpowering either the crab or the Vacherin. Still plenty of lively acidity to cleanse and refresh after each bite of the creamy cheese, and both had a truffley note that was complementary.
I did find myselves thinking about a Rolly Gassman Sylvaner that my hosts' had offered on a prior visit. The stronger acidity statement, austerity and piney character might have been a fine match with the Vacherin too.
How do you know when to eat the rind of a cheese, anyway? A nice Brie, I like it, but when they start to turn brown, they taste like ammonia. When I was in France, I saw the cheese sellers with lots of little cheeses of all appearances, but couldn't communicate well enough to ask. I didn't want to embarrass myself, anyway.
re: Melanie Wong
The problem is that cheeses for which the rind isn't really meant to be eaten may not be handled the same way (i.e. as sanitarily) as edible-rind cheeses. A cheesemonger once told me to beware of this; food-borne illness could potentially be an issue.
I'm not real clear on which cheeses you may eat the rind of, but it seems to me that all the washed-rind cheeses are a yes. My only cheese reference book, the excellent French Cheeses (DK Eyewitness handbook) by Masui and Yamada, talks about the flavor of many of rinds of many of the cheeses it covers, but not all.
Anyone out there who knows general rules for this?
As I think about the Vacherin, though, if they're curing it on spruce boards to impart flavor, it would make sense that you could eat it.
re: Leslie Brenner
But with vacherin, the rule is very clear: You slice off the rind at the top of the cheese and you throw it away. (Most of the truly great vacherin I've tasted has had extremely grotty-looking top rind.) In France, you will never, but never, be served even a bit of the rind when you select vacherin from the chariot.
With most other soft-ripened cheeses, the crust is indeed served, and it is your choice whether to eat it or not.