The Cheesemonger: Tomme de Savoie

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Name: Tomme de Savoie Producer: Various (Haute-Savoie) Milk: Raw/Pasteurized Cow Age: 2 months Price: $16.00-$18.99

I had intended to start this article by clarifying the meaning of the word "tomme", as there seems to be some confusion about tomme cheeses being a family of similar flavors. As it turns out, after consulting three different sources, I got three different definitions. While one stated it was a cheese produced from a numerous herds rather than one, another defined it as a small alpine cheese, weighing in at less than a pound. A third listed it as a cheese produced from skimmed milk from a French alpine cow.

These definitions bear some truths: these cheeses are oftenproduced from numerous herds, they do tend to be smaller wheels (though I've found most weigh in at considerably more than a pound), and, at least in the case of tomme de savoie, there are some excellent skimmed milk versions available. However, the definitions I found don't really offer something concrete. Suffice to say, a tomme is generally a smaller wheel of French cheese.

Now that that's settled, let's get down to the meat of it. Eating Tomme de Savoie makes me think of picnics in the rolling French countryside, which is odd considering it's produced in the Alps. Though I'm a bit of a rind eater, the rind of this cheese should be avoided. Although it has a delicious earthy smell and a nice rustic appearance, the rind is actually thick and bitter. Inside, you'll find a soft, lush cheese with a mild, nutty and oh-so slightly earthy flavor.

Be forewarned, though should do this as standard practice, in this case be sure to taste a store's offering before purchase. I've tasted three store's versions and each one was drastically different. The one I picked up for my tasting this week (from Blue Apron Foods) was younger and had a more pronounced saline quality than ones I've seen in other locations.

Speaking of meat, Tomme de Savoie pairs well with the other food making its leap towards immortality, charcuterie. Serve with a selection of dried meats and crusty bread and you'll be thinking about that Provencal picnic as well.

Winter is the perfect time to pick up a chunk of Tomme de Savoie. The cows, once grazing in the lush mountains, have retreated to the safety of the barn, and the cheeses whose milk was produced from the time in the open mountain air are emerging from the aging caves.

Tomme de Savoie is available at most gourmet cheese shops. Artisanal carries it at $16.00/lb, Murray's Cheese for $18.99/lb and it's available online for $17.58/lb. As I mentioned, many versions of this cheese are produced from skim milk. If you’re looking for a lower-fat cheese, there are few I could recommend more heartily. If unavailable, its creamier counterpart, Saint Nectaire, is an excellent substitute.

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