Bubble and squeak
One of the most exciting times of the year for the cheese-lover is early October, when the first Vacherins arrive…
This seasonally-produced cheese is only available in the winter months, and the sound of it bubbling in the oven is one of the great compensations to set against darker days and lower temperatures. On serving, glorious aromas fill the house, and the liquid but luscious cheese is spooned luxuriously onto tatties, grilled veg, or toasted sourdough.
The name Vacherin is claimed by cheesemakers in both France and Switzerland, straddling the mountainous border in the Jura area. Both versions are delicious, and to be honest they are mostly differentiated by their names: Vacherin du Haut-Doubs in France and Vacherin Mont d’Or in Switzerland. It’s the Swiss one that we usually have, which is usually unpasteurised and uses traditional rennet (check at time of purchase if these things are important to you, as cheesemakers differ in their approach.)
Wherever it comes from, it is made with cow’s milk, and is aged and sold in a special round box made of spruce. This not only looks good, but is the ideal container for baking. Warm the often to 160c or thereabouts, place the cheese (lid off and underneath for extra containment) on a baking tray, and heat it for about 15 minutes. You can take it out early for a firmer result, or leave it in a bit longer for a really runny effort. Just keep an eye on it to make sure it isn’t running away entirely!
Cookbooks have suggestions for complicated variations like cutting the top rind in a cross, or inserting slivers of garlic, or dribbling with white wine before baking, or (as I did this time) for sticking in a few sprigs of herbs such as rosemary. And why not.
But to be honest it is so delicious by itself, you should probably start by adding nothing at all to it! (Except a nice glass to drink: maybe a light red like Beaujolais, or a full-bodied white like Jura Chardonnay.) Here’s to cold days and warm cheese!