Word of the day: “unctuous.” From the Latin word “unctus,” which means “anointed with oil.”

Not a word I typically use when describing an amazing French cheese.

Unctuous is typically a word with a negative connotation. A word often associated with people who are attempting to butter you up or get on your good side to get something that benefits them. We might even call this type of person, oily, way too slick.

In this particular case, it’s a good word, and try as I might, I could not find another synonym that worked. Gooey, runny, or liquescent just didn’t paint the right picture. Unique cheese, unique word. It’s definitely not oily, but there’s a specific viscosity.

Cheese research was required. That’s where I discovered “unctuous” being used in a positive way to describe this seasonal cheese from Doubs, in the Franche-Comté region of the Jura.

The venerable Mont D’Or (Golden Mountain) or Vacherin Mont d’Or is considered the very best of the raw milk cheeses.

When I tasted it for the first time, I understood why. Its reputation as a delicacy is well deserved.

While visiting the ancient street market location in Châtillon sur Chalaronne, a picturesque village located between Bourg en Bresse and Lyon, in Burgundy, France, with my friend, hotelier Patrick Revoyre, I was impressed by how excited Patrick became when he saw this cheese available from one of the purveyors.

Patrick is my “Let’s Go Cook la Bonne Cuisine” counterpart, and we have been enjoying fun foodie things together for almost five years now. Visiting this street market is one of the excursions guests of this experience enjoy with us.

When Patrick gets excited about food or wine, so do I. I know to simply trust his lead. There is always something delectable waiting.

As Patrick picked up his Mont D’Or, so did I. No questions asked.

Patrick shared that this was a seasonal cheese, so when you see it between August and March, you just buy it.

Patrick explained that this cheese is warmed in the oven before being served.

Interesting cheese fact: this is one of the elite French cheeses you eat using a spoon.

A favored fromage of King Louis XV, Mont D’Or culls its delicate nutty taste from the thin spruce bark that is wrapped around it. Included in the flavor profile are hints of fresh grass, cream, and slight tannins from the thin wooden band. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it.

Today, only 11 factories in France and just over the French/Swiss border are licensed to produce it. It’s a protected AOC (Appellation Origin Control) product.

While some might enjoy Mont D’Or at room temperature right out of the bark box, dipping chunks of baguette into it, or spreading it on generously with a spoon, Patrick shared that it’s nutty and earthy flavors are brought out when it’s baked. This is the favorite way French people enjoy Mont D’Or.

Not being sure if I could find this new treasure once I got home I did want to bring some home with me. Now, I’m not saying I smuggled some home in my suitcase, but then again I’m not saying I didn’t.

Now here is where there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that raw cheese cannot be imported. A personal frustration. I’m a perfect example of enjoying raw milk cheeses in Italy and France as I travel with my “Let’s Go Cook” experiences each year and after 13 years of foraging for foreign fromage, I’m still standing, as are my guests who joyfully indulge alongside me.

The really good news is that there’s an imported version that’s available because of a process known at “thermization” (aka thermisation), which is a specific method of sanitizing raw milk using low heat.

Since my return I have discovered that it’s possible to purchase Petite Vaccarinus Vacherin Mont D’Or at Whole Foods in Napa, during the holiday season. An 8-ounce wheel sells for approximately $40. Oxbow Cheese and Wine Merchant in the Oxbow Public Market will be offering a 12.35-ounce round for approximately $27.

Murray’s Cheese, based in New York, offers this online but warn that they sell out quickly. At approximately $50, including shipping, for a 12.35-ounce wheel.

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The cost of this cheese in the U.S. was the only thing that disappointed me. I paid approximately $12, when I purchased my round at the street market. That being said, would I purchase it here in the U.S. to share with friends who adore cheese? Absolutely. It’s worth the splurge for a special occasion, a holiday gathering or New Year’s Eve soiree.

Baked Mont d’Or Cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove the lid and place the box baking sheet.

The next step is personal choice. Enjoy it plain, with a dash of pepper and sea salt, a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (I’d use Grove 45), truffle shavings, a pinch of fresh herb or a dash of white wine. Dipping can be done with chunks of baguette, crunchy toast and bites of sausage, as you might do with a fondue.

Another option that’s a bit more elegant, cut an X on top of the cheese, spread opening just slightly and drip in a little Armagnac or Cognac. Warm thoroughly and enjoy with crunchy bread sticks for dipping.

The classic recipe would be to make a few thin slits into the cheese and insert thinly sliced garlic into the openings. A hint of fresh ground black pepper over the top and a small splash of white wine.

Bake for 8 minutes, until completely soft.

Remove from the oven and enjoy with a crusty French style baguette or thick slices of slightly cooked red or white potatoes. I boiled my potatoes until just barely fork tender, allowed them to cool slightly, sliced them and lightly seasoned with sea salt. The potatoes were my favorite thing with the cheese.

Remember that white wine you used to drizzle over the cheese before baking? Now’s the time to enjoy the rest of the bottle. My choice, Pouilly-Fuissé.

Mangia bene, or as we say when in France, bien manger.

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or ila-chateau.

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