The Abondance cheese: Introduction
Its name comes from that of the main administrative town of the region of Thonon-les-bains (Haute-Savoie) which is also a market town . Its history is the same as all the other cheeses from the medium altitude mountain range. The Abondance cheese is made with whole cow's milk, from the 'Abondance' breed of cow, which curdled very slowly at a temperature of 27°C. It has been classified as AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlée) since 1990.
Exterior appearance of the Abondance cheese: flat, even rind, no holes in the cheese.
Odour of the Abondance cheese: pleasant odour of the cheese cellar
Texture of the Abondance cheese: firm and supple
Taste of the Abondance cheese: fruity and slightly salty
The Abondance cheese reveals a delicate nutty flavour and a slight bitterness, rounded off by a supple and fondant texture resulting from the savoir-faire of this particular semi-soft cheese.
This cheese is in the shape of a millstone, and is small in size as a consequence of a relatively reduced production of milk due to the small size of each herd. This cheese is currently very rare. The Abondance cheese is in the shape of a cylindrical millstone, with a straight heel, measuring a diameter of 35 to 40cm and a thickness of 8cm. It weighs between 7 and 10 kg. It is matured for 4 to 6 months in a cool, humid cheese cellar and is washed periodically. The Abondance cheese is hand-crafted (artisan) by 60 or so farms and by a number of small cheese-making workshops, the "fruitières," a co-operative where the milk from several farms is collectively turned into cheese. All of the sites where the Abondance cheese is produced must be situated in the geographical area defined by the AOC.
In the summer, the principle source of food for the cows is grass and in winter they feed on hay. Any sort of fermented, non-natural forage is strictly forbidden. Only 3 breeds of cow are authorised for the production of the milk: the Taurine, the Montbéliarde and of course the Abondance. The Abondance breed of cow has been present in the region for over 15 centuries, as it is adapted to the tough climate, the rugged relief and the difficult conditions of the mountains. The cheese is recognised from its mahogany coloured exterior and its brown coloured rings "the glasses" surrounding its "eyes"(the holes of the cheese).
The history of the Abondance cheese
It is thought that Abondance cheese was originally produced by the monks of the abbey of Abondance, who belonged to the abbey of Sion, which is why the cheese bears a resemblance to certain cheeses of the Valais. From the 12th century, the monks understood that the cheese could make the valley of Abondance well-known and rich, whereas otherwise it was lost amongst the mountains. The hard-work of clearing the forest began so that fields of suitable green pasture could be developed for agriculture. With patience and talent, the monks started to discover the secrets of production of Abondance. In collaboration with the farmers, a culture and an economic activity began. In 1381, present on the table of the conclave who had come together in Avignon for the election of the Pope, the cheese acquired its noble status. It then became a delicacy very much appreciated and close to the hearts of the people of Savoie.