The Tomme des Bauges cheese: Introduction
The Tomme des Bauges is the youngest AOC cheese of Savoy. It is a pressed, non-cooked cheese made with raw milk which has a grey bloomy rind which contains a small amount of ammonia (the fungus which was nicknamed ‘cats hairs’. The cheese weighs on average 1.2kg. Fabricated in the 17th Century, the Tomme des Bauges is the product of a tradition of an old savoir-faire method. It is best enjoyed from April to September, after having been matured for 5 weeks, but it is also excellent from December to March.
The pâte of the Tomme des Bauges cheese is ivory to yellow in colour. Its rind is grey and on the surface colours of yellow, red, pink and white can develop. Made only with raw milk, its rind is rough and bumpy. It has very fruity aromas. There are two distinctions; a green seal on the rind signifies a Tomme des Bauges which is farm produced, a red seal signifies a Tomme des Bauges which was produced in a dairy. It has a diameter of 18 to 20cm and a height of 3 to 5cm.
The Massif des Bauges is characterised by a strong topographic identity. The Massif is made of limestone and composed of a closed valley and surrounded by steep rocks in the outlying area. The countryside is dominated by areas of high mountain pasture and by a typical mountainous climate, characterised by considerable precipitation throughout the year and from very low temperatures in winter. Together the climate and the geology of the area maintain a significant potential forage and favour the selection of a diverse and adapted flora.
The milk destined for the fabrication of the Tomme de Bauges had the characteristic of having an elevated pH level which lead the cheese makers to mature the milk. This technique of slow lactic acidification helps to preserve the action of the endogenous flora of the milk. The diversity of the flora of the massif and the necessity to mature of the milk because of its acidity give this cheese its unique characteristics. The conditions of the production of the cheese, as outlined by the appellation, were defined in order to preserve the terrain and the tradition practices and to be able to express these in the cheese.
The history of the Tomme des Bauges cheese
The Tomme des Bauges cheese is made with milk which has been ‘creamed’ to make butter. As such it was an essential foodstuff, and as the Prefect Barante underlines in a questionnaire in 1807: the Tomme is in effect defined as a cheese “which is made in the households of the ‘countryside’”, “consumed by the countryfolk” and “known to be eaten at each meal.” For the gastronomes of the 18th and 19th Centuries who knew their fatty cheeses, the Tomme hardly created any interest and this explains why there is not much about this cheese, the cheese which was the foundation of the cheese-making activity in Savoy. This did not stop the cheese from being commercialised locally, as is proved by the the tariffs of the Maximum of 1793 (the Maximum Price Act was the law passed to establish a maximum price for essential goods).
In the two departments of Savoy, the cheese could be found on the stalls of the market sellers. It was most often at the stall selling “fromage frais” (fresh cheese) but it is mentioned sometimes as “low fat cheese known as Tomme” or “Matured Tomme.” The matured Tomme was more expensive than the fresh, perhaps because it has to go through the maturing process. Until the 18th Century, the Tomme was reserved for consumption at home. For the Savoyards, the cheese was an essential element of the evening meal and of snacks or lunches.