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The Globe and Mail

Tomme de Savoie: a simple cheese with a rustic elegance

I had a reunion with Tomme de Savoie recently and I'm re-smitten. He shines as a casual lunch companion or as eye candy on an elegant cheese board. Hailing from France's mountainous Haute-Savoie region, this aged, raw-milk wheel was created as a simple cheese to suit any table.

With its patchy mix of greys and brown, Tomme de Savoie's thick rind looks like ornamental bark. It sets off a buttery, yellow interior laced with small holes. On the table, it evokes simple pleasures, handcrafted with a rustic elegance. Ripened two to four months, the semi-soft paste is rich and supple. Flavours can vary, depending on seasonal milk (summer wheels often have grassier, more flavourful notes), but are typically balanced and milky with a rich meaty quality that also suggests earthy, fruity and nutty notes.

You'll hear the word "tomme" used to describe a variety of cheeses, not just those from France. Originally it was a generic term used to indicate a smaller wheel produced from partial milkings, such as lower winter yields or milk combined from several local farms. In the case of Tomme de Savoie, the milk used was left over from the production of larger mountain cheeses like Beaufort. The cream from the milk was reserved for butter, and so traditionally Tomme de Savoie is made with skimmed milk. Tommes can be differentiated by the place of production included in their name.

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These days "tomme" is used more freely to describe styles of small-to-medium-sized aged cheeses made from any type of milk. For an authentic Tomme de Savoie, look for raw milk (lait cru) in the ingredients and make sure the label specifies that the cheese was made in the Savoie region – "fabriqué en Savoie," not just "affiné (aged) en Savoie." Lower-fat, high in flavour and an excellent snack for long car rides, it's time to break up with your cheese strings tout de suite.

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