Science Byte

Why does Vacherin Mont d’Or have a piney or herbaceous aroma?

Many of the bark-wrapped cheeses take on a characteristic piney or woodsy aroma from the material wound around them. Vacherin Mont d’Or is probably the most famous example with its spruce wrap, but cheeses like Uplands Cheese Company's Rush Creek Reserve or Jasper Hill’s Harbison also come to mind.


Structure of linalool, a cause of piney aroma

As you may have guessed, the best guess for the cause of the piney aroma in these cheeses is the wooden band wrapped around them. Spruce, and many other woods, naturally contain compounds called terpenes. Terpenes are often described as having a piney, herbaceous, or minty aroma. These compounds can seep into the cheese as it ripens, leading to the characteristic aroma. Several examples of terpenes found in these cheeses include: linalool, terpineol, and isoborneol.


While we often talk about flavors and aromas being caused by certain compounds, it’s important to remember that the unique taste and aroma of cheese is caused by a whole menagerie of chemicals. Cheese flavor is definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.