Every September, the village of Les Charbonnières in Vallée de Joux holds an entire festival dedicated to one, remarkable cheese – Vacherin Mont d’Or AOC. The Fête du Vacherin Mont-d’Or marks the season start for this soft cheese, where locals and cheese tourists gather in the village of to have the first taste of the season.
The 23rd September 2023 will see the full festival take place where over 4,000 visitors will descend on the village to enjoy a range of celebrations. The fete will start in the morning with the descent of the herd, followed by the presentation of the cheeses alongside a glass of wine. The afternoon sees a farmers market, helicopter flights, yodelling, bell-ringing and country music. To view the full line up of events, click here.
Image copyright: https://www.myvaud.ch/en/P1284/vacherin-mont-d-or-festival
Legend has it that in 1871, a soldier from Bourbaki’s army brought the famous recipe with him to the Charbonnieres. However archival documents can date the appearance of this cheese in the region to the 12th century, invented by the farmers of Mont d’Or massif.
During this period, the mountain pastures of the high plateaux of the Jura were managed by the great abbeys of Saint-Claude and Montbenoît, where they would carry out livestock farming and dairy production. From the 14th century, it is documented that ‘fruitières’ were created, or in other words, cheese factories.
The 19th Century saw the ‘Société coopérative de laiterie des Charbonnières’ begin producing Vacherin Mont d’Or, with celebrated affineur Jules-Moïse Rochat responsible for the maturing of the cheese. Now it is made exclusively by 11 affineurs.
The cheese takes it’s name from the highest point of the Doubs region “Le Mont d’Or” (1461m).
Photo credit: https://www.vacherin-montdor.ch/
The milk comes from from cows that graze in fields of herbs and flowers on the Jura mountains. This gives the milk a incomparable aroma, richness and a particular smooth texture. The milk is usually used to produce Comte or Gruyere, but in the winter months the quantities of milk needed for production becomes insufficient. So the herds come down from the mountains, and the milk used to manufacture cheeses which required much less milk – in short, Vacherin.
The cheese is wrapped in a piece of spruce bark handmade from fir trees of the Jura region. The delicate essences of the wood wrappings merge with the flavours of the cheese. When very ripe it becomes super oozy and spoonable, famously, it is served directly in this box.
Vacherin Mont D’Or received its AOC certification in 2003 to protect its provenance. About half of the total thirteen producers and finishers are located in Les Charbonnières and its surrounding villages. It is here that the “Fête du Vacherin Mont D’Or AOC” is celebrated every year in the main square.
The name “Vacherin” is thought to have come from making the cheese distinguishable from “chevrotin”, a goat’s milk cheese. By the 19th century, raw-milk Vacherin was already established as a fine cheese from the Les Charbonnières area.
There is limited availability of Vacherin. Larger volumes aren’t being created because of the limited producers, whose team work according to tightly controlled criteria in a carefully determined zone of production in Vaud. This is where the cheese may be made according to Swiss federal-government ‘AOC’ regulation. ‘AOC’ stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, similar to PDO in the UK Protected Designation of Origin.
The cheese is available throughout the winter until April. According to the head of the Vacherin Mont D’Or association, about 70 tons are exported to Europe. It also reaches further afield to Japan, with five tons going to Canada and the US. That sounds a lot but 150,000 individual 500g boxes across the whole planet is not much to go round! So make sure you can get yours while you can.
Vacherin Mont D’Or it is an absolute cheese-lover’s must. It really is a one of a kind cheese, and worthy of celebration. You can buy Vacherin Mont D’Or AOC here.