Chefs Peter Woolsey and Kenneth Bush have been busy this month with the opening of Gabi, the Art Deco-style French cafe the partners recently opened on North Broad Street. But November is a key month to pay attention to Woolsey’s first restaurant, Bistrot La Minette, because it’s when the Queen Village bistro serves its special-order dinners dedicated to Mont d’Or.
Vacherin Mont d’Or (also called Vacherin du Haut-Doubs) is one the world’s greatest cheeses, a 1-pound wheel of heady, washed-rind curds wrapped in a band of spruce bark, with a heart so oozy when ripe that it’s often eaten with a spoon. La Minette, however, takes it to the next level by serving it as a “Vacherin chaud.” Executive chef Grant Lloyd adds a splash of white wine to the center of the round, then bakes it inside its balsa wood box until it emerges as the ultimate pungent fondue. It comes alongside all the fixings: platters of steamed fingerling potatoes, roasted mushrooms, fresh-baked baguettes, and a pile of smoky Morteau-style sausage Woolsey has made for the meal by Rieker’s in Fox Chase.
A $160, three-course feast for four built around the cheese begins with a Jura-style salad (with chunks of ham and Comté) and ends with a moist cocoa gateau Arboisien, made from a blend of nut flours. It recalls a family celebration Bush and Woolsey experienced on a trip to the Jura — the home of Woolsey’s wife, Peggy — and the mountainous Franche-Comté region bordering Switzerland, where Mont d’Or has been made during the cold weather months since the 13th century, after the Montbéliarde and Simmental cows return from the mountain pastures where they’d been producing milk for Comté.
Mont d’Or was a favorite of Louix XV and has inspired a legion of other spruce-wrapped cheeses, from mass-produced L’Édel de Cléron to excellent artisan American variations like Harbison, Rush Creek Reserve, and Greensward. La Minette’s current supply of Mont d’Or comes from Switzerland (via Murray’s Cheese), and its lusciously earthy cream has an almost bacony savor that echoed long after the meal, which we washed down with wines from the Jura. It was a satisfyingly rustic feast, and great fun with a group, with flavors powerful enough to linger in my cheese-loving imagination until next November rolls around.