Nov 5, 2014

To Pair or Not to Pear?: Tomme de Savoie


Cheese and fruit seem like almost as much of a pair as cheese and crackers, cheese and bread, or cheese and wine. But there is a trick to pairing your pears, and your apples, berries, figs, and other fruits. Because when it goes wrong, it goes brushing-your-teeth-after-orange-juice wrong.

For example, more than once, one of us in the family has decided to eat a clementine along with, or after, some cheese. You would think this is a mistake you would make only once, but we are either a little slow on the uptake, or extremely addicted to fruit (or both). But there is something so horrible about the citric acid in your mouth with the cheese -- with any cheese.

It turns out that, for the same reason, salad can be risky with the cheese course. In traditional French service, the salad comes after meal but just before the cheese. That works for a few reasons, one of which is that after some heavy food (it's France, so probably meat), and before the rich cheese and dessert, it feels good to eat something a little light, crisp, and fibrous. But if you are having it with your cheese, as we (and even the French) sometimes do, you have be light on the vinegar or lemon and stick to basic greens; this is not the moment for a salad filled with "stuff" (e.g. tomatoes, peppers, carrots), normally my favorite kind of salad. Also, it's best to accompany your dressed greens with a cheese that is non-acidic and non-tangy, whether hard or soft. That's why you see mild goat cheese rounds on toast so often in bistros.

Most of my life, I thought apples and pears were classic things to match with cheese, and that you just couldn't go wrong with these. That's because most of my life, all I really ate was Cheddar, and maybe pasteurized Brie or Camembert. It turns out that pears go amazingly, perfectly, beautifully well with blue cheese. That's Pippa's favorite way to eat blue cheese, and the combination of sweet and juicy with tangy, salty, and creamy is so good that just writing about it is making my mouth water. Pears, in fact, go with just about any cheese, if they are soft, sweet, and juicy (and it is, perhaps for this very reason, that the pear-ish white Sancerre or a light dessert Sauternes are my favorite wines to go with most cheeses, and especially blues).

Apples, on the other hand, do not generally go well with blue cheese in my opinion, although some people do eat them matched. I think apple is even worse on goat or sheep cheese. Apples seem to pair best with cows' milk cheeses, especially ones that are hard/sweet/nutty (like Cheddar, Comté, Beaufort, or Gouda) or buttery (like Brie or Chaource). But once your cheese gets too stinky, strong, and acidic, then the acid of the apple seems to compete. For example, though it is a cows' cheese, I do not find Epoisses on an apple to be anything shorts of pure yuck. I've had a delicious cheese, and a delicious apple, yet eaten with or just next to each other, they suddenly leave a bitter chemical taste in your mouth.

For more acidic, tangy cheeses, like a goaty goat cheese, avoid the acidic fruits like citrus (yak) and apples (meh) and go for berries or figs -- something a little creamy and sweet. Dried fruit and fruit gels are always safe bets, because they're sweet and non-acidic.


Grapes are pretty on a platter, and generally taste OK next to cheeses that would also pair well with apples (sweet/nutty or creamy/buttery cow) and less well with the uber-tangy goats or sheeps. However, I don't think they actually work with a bite of cheese in your mouth, at the same time. As a palate cleanser, they can be nice. And cherries work with goat cheese but, especially, are a classic pairing with sheep cheese, fresh or in jam or gel form.

And as for peppers, carrots, cucumbers, or radishes, I often put them out with cheeses so that people can cut through the creamy fat with something crunchy and healthy. But it's not always a great call. Sometimes, the peppers, in particular, are just too acidic, and they bring out the worst in a cheese (and vice versa). I still put them out mind you, because I like peppers, but perhaps I should warn my guests.

And some of the photos seem to contradict what I'm saying and are just "n'importe quoi" which means "whatever", but the French use to it refer to a chaotic, illogical mess. That's because I've learned these fruit-pairing lessons the hard way, often through the cheeses and fruits I eat just after I take these photos. But they sure do look pretty that way.


Tomme de Savoie is a cow's milk cheese, usually made from raw milk originally from Tarentais or Abondance breed cattle, more recently Montbéliarde, and most recently Holstein (within limited amounts). The milk is pressed into a hard cheese after being warmed, but not cooked. It's a fairly generic name, however, that represents many styles of Tomme de Savoie with different flavors and particulars coming from different valleys and mountains in the Savoie region. Some are farmhouse, some are artisanal, and some are industrial.

The cheese is aged for a month in a warm cellar, or for several months in a cool cellar, after which time it is covered with black, gray, reddish molds, although sometimes the crust will be lighter in color. It's a hard cheese, between firm and crumbly, with a crust that you probably won't want to eat. Though it doesn't look, or taste, like it, Tomme de Savoie is a relatively low-fat cheese (as low as 20% M.G.), and that's partly because historically it was made using the skimmed buttermilk left after butter production.

The inside is a mild version of a mountain cow cheese, often less intense (although, as I said, the cheese can vary quite a lot) than its cousins, which include Tomme Cironnée (a Tomme de Savoie purposely left in the cellars till the mites get to it) and Tome des Bauges.


As a hard, mild, sweet/nutty mountain cow cheese, the Tomme de Savoie is the kind of cheese you can eat with apples and pears, making quite a delicious combination. But the reason I choose this cheese for this story is that I have this cheese when I am visiting friends in Bretagne; my friend H-O (a nickname of his initials, like AJ, TJ, or JP, and pronounced, in French "Ah-Show") gets excited about the photo possibilities with his pear tree in the backyard and brings the platter over to stage this photo op. And so, not only is Tomme de Savoie good with a pear on the plate or in your mouth, it's also quite a nice combination in this picture.


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