Brie is an easy go-to for the holiday party, since it requires little work except garnishing with some nuts or baking in the oven until oozy, but it’s worthwhile looking beyond the brie to another seasonal cheese, Vacherin Mont d’Or.
Vacherin Mont d’Or is a Swiss cow’s milk cheese and is only available from about mid-October to mid-February, hitting its prime in December, right around the holidays. The cheese has the same creaminess of brie, though with a marked pungency and a slight piney flavor that comes from wrapping the cheese in spruce bark (if you don’t like stinky cheese, keep away). It’s so soft once it’s at the right temperature that you can dip crackers or bread directly into the cheese as though it were fondue.
To serve the cheese, leave it in the spruce wrapping and using a sharp knife (serrated works well) slice off the top of the cheese to remove the bloomy rind. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour to maximize the softness, then grab some bread and dig in.
Vacherin Mont d’Or is currently available at Murray’s Cheese and at the cheese cave in the Whole Foods on Houston Street, as well as at other specialty cheese shops throughout the city. The price tag (about $25 to $30) is surely steeper than the average brie’s, but when you taste it, you’ll understand why. It’ll make the holiday party — other than the mistletoe, that is.