Monday, December 29, 2014

Tomme de Savoie

Savoie in the Rhone-Alps region of France.

Savoie is a region in the French Alps. Though some of the tallest mountains surround the area, beautiful vineyards rest at the base of these peaks. In addition, Savoie is home to two lakes: Lac du Bourget and Lac d'Aiguebelette. The former is the largest and deepest in all of France, and the latter is the purest, least polluted lake in France. The Isere river makes its way through Savoie, feeding the two lakes. Savoie is famous for its apple and pear orchards, its breathtaking scenery, the beautiful vineyards and the cows that produce milk for some of the most distinctive cheese in the country, including Tomme de Savoie.

Alpine cows sitting in a pasture.

Tomme is really a family of cheeses, all produced in the Alps of France and in some areas of Switzerland. The cheeses tend to have notes of traditional alpine cheese, but Tomme cheeses are on the stronger side. Skimmed raw cow's milk is used to produce these cheeses, so the fat content is low. Despite being lower in fat, they still melt well and feel rich and creamy on the palate. Each Tomme-style cheese will have a slightly different flavor depending on where the cheese is produced and what the cows are eating at the time the milk is gathered to make the cheese. Sometimes the animals feast on winter hay, but other times fresh grass is on the menu.

Of all the Tomme-style cheeses, Tomme de Savoie is the most famous. The semi-soft, pressed cheese is redolent of the stables, and the more the cheese ages, the more it smells like horse manure. Don't be worried, though, this isn't a bad thing. Many cheeses are described as having rather offensive aromas but still taste good, and some find the strange odor appealing. Beneath the dark, brownish-gray rind that's speckled with patches of white, red and yellow mold sits a supple beige interior, one that has holes similar to Swiss cheese, only these are much smaller.

Tomme de Savoie has many small eyes speckled throughout the interior.

Tomme de Savoie has a thick rind.

Tomme de Savoie is aged two to four months. As it ages, the flavor intensifies. It's not quite a stinky cheese, but it can develop some similar flavors, especially close to the rind, which is a little scary looking at a glance. The cheese actually looks like it was plucked from the earth, like some kind of dirt-encrusted root vegetable turned into dairy, and it has big earthy, musty flavors to match. Expect a tangy, pungent flavor to jump out right away, revitalizing your entire being. The saltiness and rustic mushroomy notes emerge only after you begin to chew the cheese. There are slight nutty and citrus flavors hiding in there too, but they may take some time to surface. If you let the cheese age past its prime, it will develop an ammonia flavor that will overpower the nicer qualities of the cheese, but it isn't necessarily bad if you're one who likes that kind of punch on the palate.

Traditional rennet is used to make Tomme de Savoie. With the earthy notes, the cheese goes well in a baked spinach pie. Its strong flavors also stand up to cooked meats, dried meats and sausage, but if you prefer, serve it with grapes and bread. The sweetness of the fruit will counter the pungent flavors of the cheese. This cheese is a mountain staple, so don't be afraid to add it to potato dishes or melt it with other cheeses in pasta dishes.

Brochette de Tomme de Savoie (Tomme de Savoie wrapped in beef carpaccio).

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

I love a good challenge, and matching wine aromatics with those of horse manure may not be as difficult as one might imagine. “Barnyard” is actually a positive description for some red wines, inferring an earthy rustic character which I love. 

The earthiness of this cheese and the fact that is rather low in fat actually brings some red wines to mind. We could actually match it with a Savoie red, Domaine Jean Vullien Mondeuse, at $15.99. Mondeuse grapes, grown throughout this region of France are made into a dark colored, aromatic wine with flavors of tart cherries and dark plums with a generous acid level. The earthness and smokiness of Syrah makes this a really good choice as well, working with flavors of the cheese. Chave’s Offerus St Joseph, for $29.99 would be delicious, but a less expensive southern Cotes du Rhone would work well too. Kermit Lynch’s CDR is spectacular with this cheese and costs about $18.99. For value, Chapoutier’s Belleruche is acceptable for $9.99.

 If you want to impress your friends, an ideal wine to accompany this cheese is Alexakis Red, a blend of Kotsifali and Syrah. I love this wine, which I have described as reminding me of a forest floor. It is very rustic and earthy with wonderful fruit….and who would have thought of Greece? 

For whites, a good white Cotes du Rhone would work. These are usually combinations of Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier and are minerally and mouth filling, and are perfect with this cheese. St Cosme James’ Little Basket Press is awesome at $15.99. Yalumba Estates (Australia) makes a 100% Roussanne Eden Valley for $20.99 that is wonderful. Finally, again turning to an unusual source, Royal Tokaji Dry Furmint from Hungary, with its minerally smoky aromatics and flavors is a great choice at only $12.99. 

Enjoy this wonderful cheese and a good bottle of wine to go with it. Lize and I are looking forward to exploring new cheeses and wines with you all over the next year. Happy New Year!

Vin de Savoie pairs well with Tomme de Savoie.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rogue River Blue

With a population of just over 2,100, Rogue River in Jackson County, Oregon isn't exactly one of the largest cities in the United States. The verdant little area is nestled along the banks of the Rogue River. Its rugged landscape includes wooded areas, forested mountains and suburban neighborhoods. With very little snowfall but a lot of rain, the area continually looks like an El Greco landscape.

The Rogue River in Oregon flows not far from the Rogue River Creamery. 

While I enjoy pretty much every kind of cheese, I tend to get overly excited when I am about to try something different, really different. Rogue River Blue is a wild and wonderful extravagance that makes cheese sampling fun. I'm not at all surprised that Rogue River blue cheeses have received many awards and that the company has received worldwide attention and admiration. The history of the company is quite fascinating:

Rogue River Blue is a cheese made with old-world techniques, modern love and a little bit of new age idealism. With aging facilities created that replicate the conditions of the curing limestone caves in Cambalou, home of the famous Roquefort cheese, Rogue River Creamery has figured out a way to create some of the finest blue cheeses in the country. The company not only focuses on making beautiful, tasty cheeses, it is dedicated to quality and sustainability as well. And wow, Rogue River Blue is a chef d'oeuvre with its magnificent appearance. The cheese is artistically wrapped in grape leaves that have been soaked in pear brandy, giving the entire cheese a mature, seductive allure. Be sure to buy this cheese soon, because it's a seasonal cheese made during the fall. Production stops after the winter solstice.

Rogue River Blue is wrapped in Syrah leaves that have been soaked in pear brandy from Oregon.

Using raw milk from Holstein cows that graze mostly on lush grasses, herbs, berries and hops with just a bit of alfalfa and grain, Rogue River Blue ends up having a deeply rich, complex and earthy flavor. Macadamia and hazelnut notes mingle with a strong fruity pear flavor right from the start. The sweetness is undeniable in this moist, slightly gritty but mostly creamy blue, and a wonderful tart, tang cuts through, one that's typical of good European blue cheeses. With the sweet, nutty flavors comes a burst of saltiness that makes your taste buds come to attention without overwhelming them. There's also a slight herb taste, especially close to the edge, but avoid eating too close to the damp grape leaves, as the flavor can be on the musty side.

Rogue River Blue cheese is wrapped in grape leaves.

This is a cheese that grows on you the more you eat it. If you love it right off the bat, you will eventually get strong cravings for it and even dream about it. If it's not your favorite in the beginning, you will at least learn to appreciate its luxurious qualities. Vegetarians will jump for joy when they find out this blue is made with vegetarian rennet. It's not often that vegetarian cheese is so robust, flavorful and exciting. The raw-milk cheese is aged nine to twelve months, allowing the flavors to develop and mature. Its texture is less crumbly than a lot of blues but still fractures easily when you cut into it. It has a creamy but hearty feel in your mouth.

Despite the strong flavors of Rogue River blue, and despite its sweetness, this is a great cheese for baking in savory tarts, crumbling on salads or serving as part of a fruit and cheese plate. You can also add some to a hamburger with fried egg on a soft bun. Of course, a nice hunk of this blue served with a toasted ciabatta roll is also fantastic. Another option is to accentuate the already sweet cheese by serving it with nuts and fig jam or honey on crackers.

A toasted ciabata roll with Rogue River Blue makes a divine snack.

Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.

Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

Wine with Rogue River Blue. If enjoying this cheese in its pure form (alone or with perhaps some nuts or bread) the best wines to match with it are all sweet, with one exception, as sweetness balances Saltiness beautifully. 

Port, either a well aged Vintage Port or a Tawny, is an excellent match. The sweetness offsets the saltiness of the cheese, and the big body of the wine holds up to its massive flavors. Vintage Ports can set you back $100 or more, but the Taylor Fladgate 10 Yr. Old Tawny is wonderful at $31.99 and their Fine Tawny is a bargain at $15.99 ( aged about 5-6 yrs.) 

Even better are sweet white wines. Those affected by Botrytis (“noble rot”) are especially good with this blue, as the earthiness combined with the sweet, full body work beautifully. Sauternes from France are the classic wine of this type but are very expensive. Just as good is the Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos, from Hungary, a delicious wine for $22.99 a 500ml Bottle. Eisweins are also an excellent choice. While the German ones are outrageously priced, beautiful examples are made in, of all places, Ontario, Canada. The Jackson Triggs, at $24.99 a 375 ml bottle is delicious. 

German Rieslings work well, as long as they are on the Spatlese or Auslese level of sweetness. The Rictere Brauneberger Juffer- Sohnnenuhr Auslese (you got to love those German wine labels) at $28.99 is perfect, but far easier on the wallet (and the pronunciation) is Chateau St Michelle Late Harvest Riesling at $10.99. Finally, that all purpose wine – bubbly - works here. Brut actually works well, but a nice Demi Sec, with a bit of sweetness, is especially yummy. Check out Gruet at $16.99.

Taylor Fladgate 10 Yr. Old Tawny port pairs well with the big flavors of this blue cheese.