Dec 30, 2014

A Season, a Reason, Acheesin': Tomme des Aravis


'Tis the season. For certain cheeses, that is. This is the time to cozy up to a nice hard mountain cheese, cow or even sheep. Maybe you'll melt it -- raclette-style. Maybe you'll just eat it plain. Just like fruits and vegetables, cheeses have seasons when they're particularly pleasing. And there's a reason.

The simplest way to think of it, in this day and age when you can get mangos and bananas in winter in Paris, is to try to remember that there was not always great refrigeration in the world. Cheese is, essentially, a way to take milk that is abundant in the spring and summer, when the animals are birthing and nursing and eating delicious grasses, and to save it for the winter, when there's snow on the ground and the animals are hunkered down in a stable of hay.

This means that only cheeses that age well were traditionally eating in the middle of winter. Goat cheeses, especially soft ones (and soft sheep cheeses as well) tend not to be aged more than a few weeks, or a month or two at most. That means that the cheeses were traditionally available mostly in the spring, summer, and early fall. Even today, you'll see a noticeable drop in the goat cheese choices in the winter, though of course there is refrigeration and year-round feeding and milking possibilities, so you'll still see plenty.

Therefore, aged cheeses, the kind that could sit in a cellar for several months, and even from one winter to the next, are your sure-bet winter cheeses. These tend to be hard, nutty mountain cow cheeses, along with good hard sheep cheeses. These heartier, naturally longer-life cheeses take up more shelf space in the winter, when the goat cheeses are scarce. You don't get good apples in the spring, good oranges in the summer, or good peaches in the winter. It's just the way it is.

For everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn, and that includes cheese.

THE CHEESE: Tomme des Aravis

Tomme des Aravis is a classic hard, mountain farmhouse cheese from Haute-Savoie, made from raw cows' milk. Aravis is a massif -- a mountain range at the edge of the Alps near Geneva and the Swiss border -- in eastern France.

Very closely related to a Tomme de Savoie, a Tomme des Aravis is aged for many months. It's a hard cheese that is salty and buttery, with sweet nutty hints. The texture, riddled with little holes, is closer to creamy than crumbly.

While the crust is mostly, like a Tomme de Savoie, in the brown-gray-black mold family, it can also be white, yellow, or orange, owing to a mold of the region that also gives Reblochon its multi-colors. In fact, it is often made in Reblochon molds, and is described as being like a Reblochon, as well as a Tomme de Savoie: the missing link, if you will.


The Aravis massif is famous for ski resorts, among other things, and it's a nice wintery area to hunker down indoors with something hot, like some hard cows' cheese, melted over a thick slab of toast. I imagine Heidi with Grandfather on a wintery day in their cabin in the Alps (just across the border).

Tomme des Aravis would be just as out of place in the summer (though delicious, still) as a light, lemony, creamy goat cheese would be in the winter (which is not to say I don't buy and eat them then, anyway). Thanks, modern refrigeration!


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