Tomme de Savoie (TUM-day-sah-VWAH) is an unassuming rustic semi-firm farmhouse cheese from the French Rhone Alps. A tomme is a small round cheese; in this case, seven inches across, two to three inches tall, and three and a half pounds in weight. Savoie refers to the region of origin. If you access a map, the actual region of production is near the town of Chambery within the Savoie department where, being a farmhouse cheese, it is mostly produced on mountain farms (fermier) in the region. A farmhouse cheese may coorelate to an estate-bottled wine since it is all produced on one property and that usually results in a superior product. What we get in this country, however, comes from large cooperatives (frutieres) sometimes run by an alliance of farmers.
The breed of mountain cow milked to make the cheese is called Abondance and Tomme de Savoie is a by-product of other stronger cheese or butter making. Tomme de Savoie is made with the lower fat (2-2.5% butter fat) raw milk left over after the creamier stuff is skimmed for the other purposes. Abondance cows are milked year round with a noticable difference in the end result cheese depending on the season. In the summer the cows dine on fresh grass; in the winter, dry hay.
So what makes Tomme de Savoie worth our interest here? Like an estate-bottled wine, this cheese exudes complexity in its taste related to and within the parameters of its earthy, rustic appearance. Tomme de Savoie has a thick brown-gray rind which may be mottled with other bacteria-affected colors and that appearance screams "artisan" to even the casual observer. Inside, the cheese is a pale yellow ivory paste with irregular "eyes" throughout.
Coming from the Rhone one would expect this cheese to complement the wines of the region and this one does but in a way perhaps not expected. Being a mild skim milk cheese, Tomme de Savoie doesn't possess the characteristic wininess of some centerpiece cheeses. What it does possess is a panoply of complex aromas and flavors that include: grass, nuts, mushrooms, wet straw, and dried fruit and vegetables, all of which are shrouded in the rustic earthiness of its appearance. Some say the odors of the cave even accompany the cheese to the table even as it remains mild, soft, and fruity.
While Rhone red wines optimally pair with Tomme de Savoie, the diversity of flavors in this cheese profile make it a suitable companion for many choices including the Chilean Chardonnay on our tasting table today. Aside from wine, Tomme de Savoie pairs well with sausages, fruits, and breads, not the least of which would be a crusty French baguette.
Amongst the many websites researched for this article, cheesemaking.com was by far the best of the lot and we recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about cheese.
This Friday's wine tasting will feature new world wines for a change. Eagle Rock Distributing is scheduled for the evening and they have new Chileans that are frankly just outstanding! Please join us for that one. These wines are special.