Monday, June 11, 2012

Abondance, AOP and Abondance de Savoie AOP. Great Cheeses of the Savoie, France

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan Newman

Abondance AOP
Photo with the permission of the Syndicat Interprofessionnel du Fromage Abondance.
Photo credited to JM Gaillard SIFA
Abondance AOP and the Abondance de Savoie AOP
Abondance AOP and the Abondance de Savoie AOP  are two of the greatest cheeses from the Rhône Alps. .Both cheeses are  48% semi-dry cow’s cheese made from non-pasteurized milk.  The Abondance de Savoie AOP is matured for three months and the Abondance AOP is matured for at least five months before being sold.  These cheeses are, despite some arguments, accepted as having a taste close to the best matured Gruyere type cheeses. One of these two cheeses will be the cheese chosen for a genuine Fondue Savoyarde.  However, the two cheeses have different textures, slightly different tastes and different colors.  Above all these two cheeses are among France’s very best.
Abondance, the valley and the town

The valley of Abondance in winter.
Photograph courtesy of rossjamesparker
Both Abondance cheeses come from northern part of the department of Haute-Savoie, close to the border with Switzerland. This is the French Alps and in the winter the whole area is a ski resort.However, long before skiing was a sport the Abondance valley and the town of Abondance gave their name to the cheese. They also gave their name to the unique Abondance breed of cows whose milk is exclusively used for these cheeses.
The Abondance AOP
Of the two cheeses that may use the name Abondance, the Abondance AOP was the first.  It is the original, and it is matured longer. The Abondance AOP has been made in same area since monks began producing it in the 14th century.

Abondance on sale.
Photograph courtesy of fred_v.
The Abondance de Savoie AOP
The second cheese is the Abondance de Savoie AOP made in a different part of  the Haute Savoie. For France this is considered a relatively new cheese, as it has only been made since the end of the 18th century. Abondance de Savoie AOC is matured for only three months. It is a great cheese, but obviously  a lighter tasting cheese that its older and longer matured neighbor.
The names of the two cheeses are very similar and the tastes do slightly differ, that's along with the prices. Therefore, look carefully which cheese you will be buying as the names easily confuse. All good fromageries, cheese shops, will let you have a sliver of each cheese to choose from.  No local restaurants will have omitted at least one of the two cheeses from their cheese trolley. To see how to buy cheeses in France and take then home click here.

The most important inhabitants of the Valley of Abondance.
Photograph courtesy of fred_v.
Fondue Savoyarde
Cheese fondues were on home menus in the Savoie long before skiing  became fashionable. Then a local cheese along with a small amount of garlic and both melted together  with a local white wine was enjoyable family meal. The fondue is eaten with pieces of bread that are dipped in on a special fork. 

Fondue Savoyarde.
Photograph courtesy of   pedro_cerqueira
In the 1950’s and 1960’s fondues became a national dish. Then everyone who went skiing would come home talking endlessly about the fondues.  Today Fondue Savoyarde has lost some of its international glimmer; however, it still enjoyed in the  homes of the region and will be on menus in the ski resorts.The two Abondance cheeses are the local cheeses of choice for this dish.  However, I have also enjoyed a Fondue Savoyard made with added Emmenthal a well as the Abondance AOP and the addition  of Madeira wine.
What is a Berthoud?
A Berthoud will be on many local menus.
If you are travelling in the Savoie,  then apart from a Fondue Savoyarde  made with either of the Abondance cheeses,  local menus may offer a Berthoud.  A Berthoud is a traditional baked cheese dish from the Savoie.
To make the Berthoud the cheese is baked together with a local white wine,  sometimes flavored with a Madeira wine. When the cheese and wine is well mixed you will be served potatoes and bread  and dried meats to dip into the dish and enjoy.

Photograph courtesy of byb64
Both these cheeses travel well as do all semi-hard and hard cheeses, if vacuum packed. At home this cheese will keep well for a period of a month, or possibly a little more if properly kept in in the refrigerator. When serving take the cheese out of the refrigerator for at least half an hour before.  Enjoy these Savoie cheeses together with a good Savoie white wine. Together they should bring back good memories of your travels. 

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Bryan G. Newman

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