Jun 27, 2014

Water to the People: Tomme Provence Ancienne


Two thousand years ago, while gladiators were battling it out in the arena, the Romans also built this amazing aqueduct, the Pont du Gard. The engineering is impressive for any era: It is the highest of all existing Roman aqueducts. The bridge was built to bring water to the people, but two millennia later, it's bringing people to the water.

Besides boatloads of kayakers -- both literally and figuratively -- there are also swimmers and cliff-jumpers. It's hard to beat this as a backdrop for a place to cool off in a heat wave. I wonder what the Romans would think of it all?


The engineering is just as awe-inspiring as the view: It drops 2.5cm, or just under one inch, over the span of the bridge, and just 17m (56ft) over the entire span from neighboring village Uzès to its ultimate goal in Nîmes about 50km (31 miles) away.

THE CHEESE: Tomme Provence Ancienne

Though it looks somewhat like a naked Tommette de Provence..... and is clearly a related cheese in terms of size, shape, production method, and terroir, there are some subtle -- and not so subtle -- differences. A Tommette de Provence is a fresh cheese, almost the texture of a pressed cottage-cheese patty. Whereas Tomme Provence Ancienne is an aged cheese (albeit briefly, 10-21 days) that develops a crust (albeit thin) and a more pronounced and complex flavor.

This raw goat's milk cheese has been made by traditional methods since, literally, time immemorial.  It is considered the original cheese of the region. Traces of this sort of cheese have been attributed by archeologists to the Neolithic period, as far back as 5000 B.C.

To say it's creamy seems, well, like an understatement. It's oozy, wet, and you can practically pour it on your bread. Frankly, it needs the crust just to hold it together. It's got a lovely tang and a pronounced salty, buttery flavor. It's the kind of cheese that will have you licking your fingers (and the paper wrapper) to get every last drop.


At 2000 years old, the Pont du Gard in Provence is about as ancient as it gets. The Tomme Provence Ancienne is not only the perfect name for a cheese to go with this story, it's quite likely the Romans were eating something very like this cheese when they built the Pont du Gard and, that, possibly, the cheese was already an ancient one even then.


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