I almost feel as though my cheese journey has come full circle. My interest in cheese was first piqued by my daughter’s trip to France and subsequent interest in French cheese. In reciprocity for her stay in France, we recently became hosts to our very own French exchange student, a charming and bright 17 year old girl. This girl is so bright and charming that she brought her new Canadian mommy FOUR cheeses from France, yes, that’s right, four. This clearly illustrates to me that this young lady knows the way to my heart. It’s simple people, just bring me cheese. While I have actually previously sampled and adored two of her cheese gifts, Beaufort (mmmmmm) and Abondance (oh yahhhhhhhhh) she also brought the next two beauties I shall review for me-neither of which I have seen in Canada for sale. You may just have to appreciate these darlings on the page here, I’m not sure if they ever make it to our fair shore- but what an excuse to go to France (does one need an excuse to go to France?)
I have run into the word “Tomme” before in relation to cheese, and have previously reviewed Tomme de Montagne, Tomme Haute Richelieu and Tomme Alsace Fermier. So what’s with all the Tommes? It turns out the word “Tomme” (not Dick, not Harry) is a generic cheese word which generally refers to cheese made from many herds mixed, or small alpine cheeses, or skim milk cheeses, or some combination of the three (sorry, that’s as clear as it gets). The word Tomme is followed by a place name to clarify it’s point of origin. Hence Tomme de Savoie, is from the …Savoie region, now you get it!
This Tomme is a true Mountain cheese made from skim raw cow’s milk, milk left over from making cheeses like Beaufort or Gruyere, which are from the exact same region, and tend to hog up all the full-fat milk. I’m actually all for a skim milk cheese if it gives me that nice cheesy mouth feel, it’s only those wretched low-fat so-called mozzarella type cheeses that have spoiled the whole skim milk cheese thing for me. It’s good to be open minded about this sort of thing. A girl who loves cheese like me, and is also attempting to watch her weight, needs to be careful-my sample has 30% fat which seems just about right.
According to my research, there are actually many Tomme de Savoies, virtually every village in the area makes one, and the name isn’t controlled by one village. This cheese does have a designation type that is new for me. I have discussed, at length the AOC designation, a designation that protects the name and terroir of a cheese, but Tomme de Savoie has Protected Geographical Indication or PGI (IGP, Indication Géographique Protégée) which seems to be an “AOC lite” type designation, meaning that this cheese is certified as being traditional or a typical speciality from a clearly defined region, but without the controlled specification of the AOC. That’s my best shot at explaining it, folks. One source online source stated that Tomme de Savoie is currently being considered for an AOC designation but isn’t there yet. Tomme de Savoie obtained the “Protected Designation of Origin” label in 1996.
Tomme de Savoie was first produced by local farmers as a way of using left over skim milk hundreds of years ago and continues to be made in small batches using the same techniques. The inhabitants of the Savoie region are terribly fond of this cheese, and will eat it with their coffee for their afternoon snack. Tomme de Savoie is made from the milk of Tarine or Abondance cows. After the curd is pressed it is matured for 2-4 months in a traditional cellar, which produces the thick rind and adds flavor. Tomme de Savoie is salted, rubbed and turned over twice a week-lucky! My lovely stinky wedge of Tomme de Savoie travelled a long way to make it to my table.
This is one of the most fabulous looking cheeses I have ever seen-and that’s really saying a lot this far into my cheese journey. The rind is dark and forbidding, the interior creamy and pocked with tiny holes. It just looks like a cheese ought to look-like an authentic cheese, I can imagine a farmer or shepherd munching on this Tomme 1000 years ago on the side of a hill-it just reeks of authenticity and is clearly not a factory-made cheese. It’s perfectly hideous and unabashed in its cheesy glory.
My French student informs me that the rind is not typically eaten with this cheese, so I shall avoid it-truly it is a little daunting. While I do enjoy a raunchy rind on my cheese this one is mottled black and brown and a tad too zombie-like for me. Tomme de Savoie smells fabulous in that unwashed toes and uric acid sort of way that I adore, it simpers beside me warming and off-gassing, proclaiming to all that it is a little stinker.
Mmmmm, ohhhhhh. Much more mild than I was expecting. It’s a little lemony, that surprises me, there’s also a balance of salt and toes that’s just freaking divine. Oh! It’s creamy, much more so than the other Mountain cheeses I have sampled which tend to be semi-hard, this one’s actually quite soft and toothsome, there’s not a lot of chewing involved, it’s perfectly tensile and springy. I can’t believe this is a low fat cheese-you would never, ever know, the mouth-feel is just as perfectly unctuous as any other full-fat cheese. It’s actually sticking to my teeth, cleaving to them, it’s made best friends with my tongue, why, “hello!” There’s a real feel of forest terroir and dank cellars in Tomme de Savoie-make no mistake-while it is relatively mild you can’t deny that hint of mystery and dark places and mushrooms-but it’s all held in perfect balance. This cheese is freaking unbelievable, why doesn’t everyone eat it?