Vacherin Mont D'Or with Ripe Pears and Drageed Hazelnuts
Vacherin Mont d'Or is one of the most loved French cheeses from the Franche-comte area in the Savoie above the Rhone Alps close to the Swiss border. Some say the Swiss make it too and they invented it but it has been determined it was the French who invented it. It is made from raw cows milk usually with winter milk and the curds are uncooked, pressed then aged on spruce planks. The curds are rubbed with salt water so they have a washed rind and then place in a wooden box of a band of spruce to help them keep there shape as they ripen and to give it a unique flavor and aroma. The rind is usually slightly crusty and golden with the interior pate being quite yellow creamy and sweet but pungent in flavor. It has at least a 45 percent butter fat content and is aged 3 weeks minimum. To serve it you must use a spoon to scoop it out of the box because ripe it is quite runny, so one 500 gram wheel should really be consumed in 1 sitting as it oozes everywhere in the box once you break through the rind. Dragees are tiny sugar balls used for decorating cakes or when nuts are coated with a thin hard layer of sugar.
To make the drageed hazelnuts, place the sugar in a small saucepan and pour the water around the edge to moisten it completely. Bring this to a boil and then add the hazelnuts. Stir continuously until all the water is cooked away and the nuts are coated with a sugar frosting.
Turn the heat to medium and continue cooking and stirring to re-caramelize the sugar and make them shiny. As soon as all the sugar has turned to a thin coating of caramel on the nuts, let them cool 30 seconds then dump them onto a slightly greased cool surface like a piece of marble.
Being careful not to burn yourself, separate them into individual glazed nuts. Let cool. Store in an airtight container.
On small plates place a few slices of the French bread and pears and place a spoonful of the cheese on the plate. Scatter the hazelnuts around the plate, about 5 or 6 per serving.