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Aug 8, 2014

So Much Better Than Wurst: Tomme Affinée au Pinot Gris

THE STORY:

After my last culinary experience in Strasbourg, I am not hopeful about Alsatian cuisine. Oh Lord -- please don't make me eat boiled meat and cabbage. Luckily, we are here in summertime and manage to eat plenty of salads, fish (which is obviously not local, but at least I'm not eating wurst), and fruits. But what excited us most are the Alsatian treats we find.




The breads and pretzels seem a natural, given our proximity to Germany (and the fact that this actually was German territory at various points in history).

 

But the biggest revelation is the macaroons, labeled macaron, but bearing no resemblance to Parisian macarons. They are clearly the coconut-based sticky cookie we Americans call a macaroon. I can't say at first I'm that excited about them, since I've been subjected to tins of kosher macaroons at Passover for most of my childhood. I hated them.

But these are a different beast altogether. Of the 6 of us traveling together -- including 4 children -- 5 of us who thought we didn't like macaroons all love them. One person is an avowed coconut hater and won't touch them (aw, don't be a hater). They're moist, very real tasting, and not too sticky sweet. Our first batch is literally warm from the oven. Yum. The local specialty is the variety of flavors of these macaroons -- blueberry, chocolate, rum raisin, orange (my favorite), pistachio (my other favorite), and plain.


Another delightful discovery is the Crémant d'Alsace. Though Alsace and Lorraine are right next to Champagne (and are slated to merge into one supersized region), they are still not allowed to call their sparkling wine "Champagne". So, instead, it is Crémant d'Alsace, and I don't care what you call it, it's delicious.


Look! Even 14 year olds love it!

 

Just kidding. Even the French aren't usually that relaxed about kids drinking. This is a photo staged to freak out her father, who isn't traveling with us. But trust me, in about 10 years, she's going to love the stuff.

THE CHEESE: Tomme Affinée au Pinot Gris

Tomme Affinée au Pinot Gris is a raw cows' milk cheese -- a classic mountain cheese -- from Alsace. It is aged with Pinot Gris, one of the great wines of the region. It's got a slightly sweet-pungent side to it, with a definite hint of the wine coming through. I'd call it medium-bodied and fairly robust, with a bouquet of fruit.

It's surprisingly creamy for a large, mountain, "hard" cow cheese. The crust is too thick and dry to enjoy, but we all eat right up to the rind. Interestingly, of the five mountain cows' milk tommes we try, this one is not only the favorite of the two moms (me and the friend I am traveling with) but also of all four of our children. That's not what I would have expected for a cheese aged with wine.


The sample we get does have that one, golden, candy-like nubbin embedded in it, which calls to me. Sadly, somebody else beats me to that particular bite.

THE CONNECTION:

Pinot Gris is another local treat of the region, and we enjoy a small sip here and there. My friend also enjoys a nice, big local beer. To further cement the connection with the region's culinary specialties, I bring this Tomme Affinée au Pinot Gris back for a party with a visiting friend whose family has always presumed that their name, Gewirtz, is related to the other great Alsatian white wine -- one of my particular favorites (I'm a sucker for fruit): Gewurztraminer.

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