Saturday, February 7, 2015

Tomme de Savoie IGP and Cows’ Milk Tomme Cheeses.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Tommes on sale.
Photograph courtesy of keepps
The first tomme.

In the days prior to refrigeration only cheese could save excess milk from being wasted. After the cheese or butter has been made the remaining liquid is the whey. The whey may also be used to make cheese. Voila, in the French Alps hundreds of years ago farmers produced the cheese called tomme, sometimes written as tome. Tomme cheeses are now on sale in nearly every supermarket in France,. 

The French Tommes today

Today, with the popularity of tomme cheeses, many French farmers and dairies make more money from  their tommes than from butter or other cheeses. Tommes are semi-hard cheeses and come with a variety of tastes and textures. The fat content of tommes vary with the food the cows eat. In the spring and summer the cows graze freely on the rich grasses in the Alps. In the  winter the cows eat the dried grasses that were collected in the same region. The breeds of cows that produce the milk will affect the final product as does the aging. The cheeses produced  are all tommes; however, there will be gentle variations in flavor,  texture and color. 

Most tomme cheeses are made from cow’s milk; however, most is not all. There are excellent French sheep’s milk and goat’s milk tommes available. However, goat and sheep milk tommes will require a separate post and more enjoyable experimentation.

Tomme de Savoie IGP

Tomme de Tomme de Savoie  at a farmers' market.
Photograph courtesy of tomxcody.
Tomme de Savoie IGP  is the most popular of all French tommes and its popularity is justified.  This tomme comes from the region of the Rhône-Alpes, from the departments of Savoie, Haut Savoie, and Ain. However, the Tomme de Savoie is not a single type of cheese. There is a Tomme de Savoie IGP made with whole milk and 45% fat. Other Tommes de Savoie are made with the more traditional recipe, only using the whey, and  they have 20-40% fat. Progress in the science of cheese production has also brought us a  5% low fat Tomme de Savoie IGP. The IGP after the name is a Pan-European certification and guarantees that the product was  made in a particular area. With the Tomme de Savoie IGP there will be no other European tommes from other areas, even in the Alps, using that name.
 I have never had a bad Tomme de Savoie cheese, but as I noted they are not all the same. A cheese made from the milk collected from freely grazing cows during the summer in the Alps will have a higher fat content. In the winter the pate may be gray and in the summer ivory to light yellow.  In the winter, the  cows are kept in barns and fed hay made from  the grasses gathered in their Alpine pastures; however,  the cheese will be lower in fat. The best Tomme de Savoie I ever tasted was one we bought at a farmers’ market in the town of Annecy in the Savoie. This was a farm-made cheese  and to purchase the exact same cheese,  I would have had to track down the farmer. Most of the Tommes de Savoie that are on sale all over France are made in dairies and have tastes and textures that vary less.  However, even in dairies the milk from different seasons have their affect on the taste and texture. Look on the packaging for the fat content you prefer.  In a good fromagerie, a cheese shop, they often allow you to taste a sliver or two of different cheeses. Then you may buy with more knowledge and learn more about the differences in the wonderful Tommes de Savoie IGP.
Tomme Fermier
Tommes fermier are farm-made cheeses; some are called tommes de montagne, mountain tommes. The name tomme originated across the mutual French, Swiss and Italian  borders and in Italy there are different cheeses called toma; possibility the origin of the word tomme.
 Cheeses made in a similar manner have long been made all over France; outside of the Savoie they were formerly just called farm cheeses. Now most of these similar cheeses are called tommes as the farmers found that sells better.  The grass the cattle graze on will be different to that of the Savoie and the breeds of cows who produce the milk  will be different.  However, the cheeses are all made in the same manner. Wherever you are in France you will find locally popular tommes with slightly different tastes.  For more information on buying cheese in France and taking it home click here.

A wedge from a  tomme.
Photograph courtesy of Salim Virji.
Tomme Laitier
Tommes made in dairies use the same regional name as the cheese produced on farms. The dairies are more able to control and repeat the taste and texture from each group of cheeses. However, to insure the consumer can identify between dairy and farm-made cheeses there are controls.  Dairy-made cheeses have a red disk inserted in the cheese and farm-made cheeses have a green disk. These disks cannot be seen from the outside, but their existence prevents fraud.
The size of Tomme Cheeses
There is no unified weight or size for tomme cheeses; however, the smallest cheese I have seen was  about 12cm (5”) across and 6cm (2.35”) high.  It weighed just about one kilo. (35 ounces).  Other cheeses may weigh up to 4 kilos.
The aging of a tomme is a critical part of the process.  The aging is carried out by professionals who spend their lives aging cheeses.  In the Alps these professional have above or below ground cellars called fruitières.   From each group of cheeses, they identify those that will only need one month of aging and others that will require three or four months or more at different temperatures and degrees of humidity.
Tommes  are now made all over France.
Tomme de Provence.
Photograph courtesy of John Picken.
An example of tommes made a long way away from the Alps are those made in the department of Ariège in the Midi-Pyrenees. Here, farm-made tommes are produced  high up in the Pyrenean pastures. If you are in that area of France in late July or the beginning of August consider watching the judging of the Pyrenean farmers’  best farm-made unpasteurized milk tomme cheeses. You may also taste these Pyrenean Tommes and enjoy local dishes made with them or buy one to take home. For the Midi-Pyrénees tomme cheese making competition contact:

The Tourism Office in the town of Saint-Girons.
The French language website of Saint Girons is:
Google and Bing translation make the website easily readable in English.

Even better, contact the French Government Tourist Office in your home country before departure and make sure the dates are correct.

Tommes from the Auvergne and Languedoc- Roussillon.
In the Auvergne, there are two excellent Auvergnat dishes made with local tommes. The most famous is Aligot, many of which are made with a local tomme  and mashed potatoes. The second is called a Truffade and made with thinly sliced potatoes fried in goose fat and mixed with a local tomme just before serving. Aligots, made with local tommes are also  on the menu in the department of Lozère in Languedoc-Roussillon and elsewhere.

 Aligot being served in a restaurant. 
Photograph courtesy of Tavallai.
Other countries have cheeses made with whey using different recipes.
That includes the Italian Ricotta.

Connected Posts:

Other French cheeses with posts published by Behind the French Menu:




Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010,2015.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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