Spruce Truths: Spruce-Wrapped Cheeses, Demystified

Posted by Emilia D'Albero on

The approach of colder months marks the re-emergence of monger-favorite spruce-wrapped cheeses like Vacherin Mont d'Or, Rush Creek Reserve and Winnimere. While these cheeses would be a delicious treat year-round, they are released only during the winter. Keep reading to learn more about their origins and why they're so highly seasonal, including some tips for selling and serving these highly sought-after holiday treats!
Vacherin Mont d'Or is an iconic Swiss (and French, if you want to get technical) cheese traditionally made from raw or thermalized (depending on the country) cow's milk and traditionally wrapped in spruce bark, which imparts a subtle woodsy flavor to the cheese and helps the cheese keep its shape. This is a seasonal cheese that is only produced during the colder months when the cows have come down from high altitude pastures.
As they reach the end of their lactation cycle, the composition of their milk changes, and they're also fed dry hay rather than fresh grass and herbs. The result is milk that is richer and fattier, but unsuitable for large format cheese production (like Gruyere!). Fortunately, this milk is perfect for making Vacherin Mont d'Or, giving it thicker, richer paste. Vacherin comes from vache, the French word for cow. Vacherin is only produced from August 15th through March 31st, and sold from September through April. American artisan favorites Rush Creek Reserve (Uplands Cheese, WI) and Winnimere (Jasper Hill Farm, VT) are both modeled after Vacherin Mont d'Or, with a similar flavor profile to their European counterpart.
If you're lucky enough to have some of these woodsy wheels at your counter, here are some tips for selling and serving:
1. Wait to put them in the case until they are almost "a point," which is French for "at peak ripeness". This guarantees that your customers will be able to dig into a perfectly gooey, savory, and luscious wheel. 
2. Sample a wheel out in anticipation of busier weekends, so that you can offer spoonfuls to customers to seal the deal. Once you open a wheel, make sure you make the most of it and try to sell as many wheels as you can in the shortest period of time. 
3. While it is a seasonal specialty and a special holiday treat, the price tag might be a bit much for some customers. Sharing is caring! Offer to cut a wheel in half to split between 2 customers who have both sampled and fallen in love with the cheese. 
4. Teach customers how to prepare and serve the cheeses. Vacherin-style cheeses like Rush Creek Reserve are wonderful baked in the oven for a few minutes with some garlic cloves stuck inside and a glug of white wine on top. If you're serving the cheese by itself, make sure to bring to room temperature first so that you get the full experience of the texture and flavor. When you're ready to serve, use a thin knife to cut and peel off the top of the cheese, and scoop out the creamy interior. Serve with roasted root vegetables, crusty bread, potatoes, sausages, or anything else you want to dip! 

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