Since it’s July 14th today, I thought it would be a suitable occasion to revisit France. Originally I started with France, the cheese country above all. That said, it does not mean
that excellent cheese is not made other places or that other countries have no tradition for making cheese. not so at all. And if history is somewhat accountable, it all started in Mesopotamia. But France and the French have their own way with cheese and where it hails from, a pride not seen anywhere else and of course old cheese making traditions. Traditions that are challenged every day, and not in a positive way.
Cheese and wine from France, of course
Valençay carries a certain political perspective. It was of course politics that created the celebrations of this day. Valençay is a chèvre, goat milk cheese, from the Loire and carries the same name as the castle of the French statesman Talleyrand.
There is also this story about how Valençay got its shape. True or not, but I’ll leave it till another time. The paste is white behind a rind of ash, salt and a bit of bloom.
Tomme de Savoie is from one of my favourite areas, the Savoie in eastern France. There is something impressive with majestic mountains, it gives me space to breathe. This is where Tomme de Savoie comes from. One of the older cheeses from that area, and originally made as a lean cheese of the surplus milk from butter making at the farms. I have the impression that Tomme de Savoie is regarded as an everyday cheese compared to the more famous and expensive Beaufort and Abondance. So be it, this cheese can compete with any. A bit softer than most other alpine cheeses and with a natural grayish rind, which you may well eat. One of few cheeses with protected origin that comes with a varying degree of fat content. Which means the making of Tomme de Savoie is not as closely related to making butter as it used to be.
ALSO READ: The making of Beaufort.
As mentioned above, French cheese makers are challenged daily. Sometimes it’s the multinational dairies, like what we see in Normandie with Camembert. Huge dairies acquire small artisan dairies and restructure the production. Artisan making of cheese the traditional way is too much of a hassle. Not very profitable either. Unlike the wine trade, the cheese trade has not manage to distinguish good from bad. The multinational dairies earn a lot of money, while the small farm dairies or other artisan cheese makers barely have enough money to survive. And moreover, the authorities also challenge the cheese making traditions. In France as elsewhere. For some odd reason, traditions that have brought us to where we are today, seem to become all the more scary day by day.
If you want to read more about the challenges real cheese faces, read the book Reinventing the Wheel by Bronwen and Francis Percival.