This is a simple precursor to cheese fondue, and I don't know of a better combination with a nice bottle of red wine.
20 fingerling potatoes, unpeeled, the smallest you can find (about 1 pound)
Coarse sea salt, for serving
1 wheel Vacherin Mont d'Or or Saint-Marcellin cheese, very ripe
1 loaf crusty bread, sliced, for serving
Unsalted butter, for serving
1/2 pint cornichons, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a saucepan fitted with a steamer, steam the potatoes until they are completely cooked through, about 20 minutes.
2. Divide the potatoes among 4 shallow bowls and sprinkle with sea salt.
3. Warm the wheel of cheese in the oven until it is molten inside but still holds its form, 3 to 6 minutes, depending on size. (You can leave it in the wood box or ceramic pot it came in, but remove all plastic wrap and paper labels.)
4. Spoon the warmed, runny cheese over the steamed potatoes, digging into the center of the wheel first. Serve with the crusty bread, butter, and cornichons.
Cheesemonger's Note: You are by no means limited to Swiss or French Vacherin Mont d'Or and the Rhone Valley's Saint-Marcellin (though these are two of my absolute favorite cheeses). Without hesitation, consider also French Munster d'Alsace, a whole two-pound wheel; also, the magnificent raw sheep's milk Spanish Extremaduran Torta del Casar, as well as Saint-Marcellin's sister cheese from nearby Saint-Félicien, farther west across the Rhùne, which is identical in taste, though larger. The great Savoie cheese reblochon would be wonderful, too.
I would remove the crust (which, in texture, is like the velvety covering of deer antlers) from just the top of the reblochon and figure on two of the one-pound wheels for four people. The Munster and the Torta will serve four to six, but the Saint-Marcellins are tiny — you'll need one per person. Three Saint-Féliciens will feed four. You're best off removing the top crust from the Vacherin and the Torta before heating, but don't bother removing the rind from any of the others.
From The Food Life: Inside the World of Food with the Grocer Extraordinaire at Fairway by Steve Jenkins and Mitchel London (Ecco, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by Steve Jenkins and Mitchel London.
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