The holiday season is upon us once again. With the onset of the fall and winter months I eagerly anticipated the arrival of one of my favorite cheeses, Petit Vaccerinus-truly a unique and unforgettable treat. Created from thermalized cow’s milk, this seasonal cheese hails from the Swiss village of Charbonnieres in the canton of Vaud. Traditionally, this cheese is made from cows that produce the milk for harder Alpine cheeses, such as Gruyere, during the summer months. Petit Vaccerinus is only available from October through March. The autumn milk is made from cows that have been munching on sweet straw and fodder, giving to it a very recognizable flavor.
One of the primary reasons why this cheese is magnificent is because of the packaging. It is presented in a round wooden box with a wrinkly, salmon pink washed rind, dusted with surface mold and wrapped in spruce bark from the farmer’s own trees. Once encased in the spruce bark the Petit Vaccerinus are aged on a spruce board. They are turned and rubbed with a cloth soaked in brine resulting in a noticeably pleasing spruce aroma. The spruce band should not be removed because it helps the cheese maintain its shape.
I had some friends over for dinner and decided to serve this delectable scene-stealer. Not only is this cheese unctuous and luscious, it is fun! We gently peeled back the top of the rind and dug in to the complete cradle of sumptuous ooze with crusty French bread, raw veggies, boiled baby potatoes and bits of steak. The pale straw, yellow interior was silky smooth with a gooey sheen and a custard consistency that was mouth-coating. The exterior had a mild barnyard aroma. The interior smelled milder-we definitely detected notes of broccoli and mushroom. It was earthy, meaty and rustic with a slight bite. The flavors lingered, allowing us to savor every mouthful. This is one complex cheese! We all noticed a distinct aroma of fireplace ash and came to the conclusion that we felt as though we were dining by the warmth of a fire on a snowy winter night.
I wrapped the wooden base of the box in aluminum foil and heated it up in the oven before serving-fondue style. Try pouring a slurp of dry Reisling in the center before baking. Enjoy with a glass of Gewürztraminer.