The Cheesemonger: Vacherin Fribourgeois

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Name: Vacherin Fribourgeois
Producer: Various (Friboug, Switzerland)
Milk: Raw/Thermalized Cow
Age: 3-4 months
Price: $14.99-$15.50

Cheeses from Switzerland get a bad rap, mainly due to that bland, holey, often processed fromage known simply as "Swiss cheese". In truth, the Swiss produce a wide variety of excellent cheeses, including this week's cheese: Vacherin Fribourgeois.

Before I begin, I need to nip something in the bud. For those getting your hopes up, this cheese bares little resemblance to the highly rare, seasonal (and expensive) Vacherin Mont d'Or. They're produced in different cantons (states) and are very different cheeses.

That's not to say Vacherin Fribourgeois is a bad cheese. In truth, it's acidic, robust, nutty and more than a little raucous. The antithesis of its country's namesake, "Swiss cheese". The feel is lush and expansive, with a flavor that lingers on. Fans of Gruyere, or the harder-to-find Hoch Ybrig, will definitely find bliss here.

It's impossible to talk about Vacherin Fribourgeois without talking about cooking. While every mention of it is tied to its use in Fondue, its abilities are not limited to that. Grated atop French onion soup, melted on a sandwich of grilled mushrooms or used to stoke the fires of a homemade pizza, Vacherin Fribourgeois' value as a great melter cannot be dismissed.

Though most versions of this cheese are excellent, I've found the best to be the one produced by famous Swiss Affineur Rolf Beeler. The man can do no wrong in my book. His Vacherin Fribourgeois is another great cheese in his arsenal, and well worth seeking out.

Unlike many cheeses, whose AOC status is long-standing, Vacherin Fribourgeois is a very new addition, not recieving its designation until December of 2005. In coordination with this, its association, the Interprofession du Vacherin Fribourgeois, plans for an increased production this year and next. In short, this cheese will become easier to find and most likely less expensive.

Those in the New York area can pick up an excellent version at Blue Apron Foods for $15.50/lb, though I've spotted it at just about every large cheese counter in the city at one time or another. It's also available online at iGourmet for $14.99/lb.