I thought I would write about one of my favourite cheeses.
Abbaye de Tamié is a medium-textured washed rind cheese, which is a typical style of the Trappist cheeses made throughout Europe. This cheese is anything but typical though.
The Abbaye Notre-Dame de Tamié is located in the mountainous Savoie area on the eastern edge of France. The Cistercian monks who live there are part of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (also known as Trappists). They consider themselves a “contemplative order” and they spend much of their day praying, worshipping and working, much of it in quiet. One of the jobs within the Abbaye is cheese making, which is the principal industry that supports the Abbaye.
This is considered a mountain cheese, as the Abbaye sits at 900 metres in altitude, although it is not the hard, nutty cheeses we tend to think of like Comté, Beaufort or Gruyere. The cheese is made from milk that comes from eight neighbouring farms in the valley. The quality is controlled carefully and the cows are fed on pasture in the good weather when possible, and then on hay in the winter. No silage (fermented hay) is used, as it changes the makeup of the milk and therefore changes the quality of the cheese.
The monks make 400 cheeses per day, and age them in the cellars of the Abbaye at 14 degrees Celsius. They are aged on wooden shelves and the natural flore of the cellars adds to the flavours that develop. The cheeses are also immersed in a brine bath made up of whey and salt during their maturation. This also adds to the development of flavour and the distinctive reddish yellow crust that marks the cheese. The cheese is made with raw milk and with natural rennet as it has been since 1133! That is a little hard to fathom, but it is a good explanation of why it has such interesting flavours. Practice clearly makes perfect.
The taste is earthy with a little woodsy, bitter aftertaste. I find it is not an easy cheese for people who are not fans of washed rind cheeses, but I served it this week for a group of 30 and at least half of the people loved it, so perhaps it is more approachable than I thought. It is definitely worth seeking out, and it makes me want to go on a tour of all the Abbaye’s in France to try all of the beautiful cheeses, made in these most traditional cheese making sites.