Tuesday, December 27, 2011

This Cheese Can Kill You

Look at that golden cheese.  It's nearly glowing, no?

It's warm and melty and begging to be spread on some bread.
I can assure you that it's even better than it looks.  It's nutty and earthy and... smacks of... whatsthatnow... oh yes, it's danger.  Do you know what danger tastes like?  Well, I tell you it's delicious.

If you are in the United States, however, you will never taste this particular danger. (Though we both know that you've got dangers of your own.)

Let me tell you the fateful story of our golden cheese here.  France is a big country, and its cuisine varies greatly by region so that the regions bordering other countries (say, Spain, Germany, Italy or Switzerland) share the food culture of the neighboring country.  This cheese is from the Jura region of France, which borders Switerland. 

And so I realize that I haven't even told you the name of our cheese yet.  That, friends, is part of the controversy.  It is called Mont d'Or or Vacherin du Haut Doubs in France, while it's called Vacherin Mont d'Or in Switzerland.  So now we've got that out of the way, back to our story...

Things started out fine for our little cheese.  It was being happily produced in both France and Switzerland using raw (unpasteurized) cow's milk until the early '80s.  Because raw milk soft cheeses are more succeptible to the rare (but deadly) bacteria Listeria, the Swiss decided to start pasteurizing their version of the cheese.  This was in 1983.  And wouldn't you know it that the same year, there was a outbreak of Listeria, killing over 30 people.  (In the US, 1983 also brought an outbreak of McNuggets, but unfortunately this threat remains.)

Of course it was the French cheese!  Long Swiss fingers pointed across the border at the unsafe French cheese!  They had pasturized their cheese just in time to show the French who was smarter!  They had beat them at their own cheesy game!

Except that it was actually the SWISS cheese that had caused the deaths.  Yes, the pasteurized nancy-cheese was actually the one killing people.

But by the time they figured out whose cheese was the cause, both cheeses were pretty much villainized.  I mean, would you want to take your chances?  Though there has not been a Listeria outbreak since 1987, the US still has both the Swiss and the French cheeses on the no-fly list.  A bastardization is available in the US (it's called Edel de Cleron, and I've read that it's just about as good, albeit pasteurized), but I've also read that a well-stocked cheesemonger in the US will have some raw Mont d'Or, though you will probably pay dearly for it.

In case I haven't gone on enough about this cheese, besides its deliciously nutty and woodsy flavor it is one of the softest cheeses I have encountered, running all over the plate when it's at room temperature.  To wit:  if you buy a whole wheel at the fromagerie, they give you a spoon.  You can either eat it at room temp, or really live and HEAT IT UP.  To do this, keep it in the spruce box it comes in, cut off the top rind, pop it in the oven, and when it's bubbling your name, dip your bread and meat and potatoes and fingers right in.  And call on the bacterial gods to stave off the listeriosis, though with a mouthful of warm Mont d'Or, you'll no doubt be willing to make a deal with the devil.