Tastebuds

A food blog from everywhere!

Cheese Factory Visit in Thônes

A few weeks ago, my community health class took a field trip to a fromagerie in Thônes, a city near Annecy in the Savoie region. The full name of the establishment is Cooperative du Reblochon de Thônes, or the Reblochon Cooperative of Thônes, and it’s usually referred to as Le Farto. It’s called a cooperative because it’s where several nearby farmers sell their milk and cheeses for cheese-making and aging. Apparently it’s one of the largest cooperatives in the region and stores & restaurants all around source their cheeses from here.

Upon arriving, the first thing we noticed was the milk vending machine outside! How often does one come across 24-hr fresh milk?

Milk vending machine!

After lots of ohhing and ahhing, we made our way into the building. Actually, the Cooperative looks a lot like any cheese shop upfront. They have lots of (of course) cheeses lined up, in addition to other dairy-related items and non-dairy related foodstuffs such as saucissons, jams and preserves, and candies.

Confections and sweets

Hanging saucissons! They have interesting names according to their shapes (e.g. ibex horns & bottoms)

Cheeses!

Because we had signed up for a tour, we were lead to an adjacent section of the shop where glass windows allowed us to peer into the cheese-making activity that take place downstairs at the Coop everyday.

Centrifuge of cheese curds!

Cheese-making instruments

Separated curds

The lady/tour guide gave us a speel about the cheese-making process (in French) and how the Coop works. After a film showing the farms where the milk is produced, we were led downstairs to see the caves for cheese aging.

One of the aging rooms

The smell down there was from quite a different world, to say the least, and as you can see from the photos it was quite damp. Not the most pleasant place to hang around, but interesting for sure. The cheeses are arranged according to their type and age.

Stacks of cheesy goodness. I think these are tomme but I'm not sure

Cheese wheels on crates

The Coop makes and ages reblochon and tomme de Savoie and stores/ages several other types of cheese, including comte, emmantel, and other types of tomme for sale. After our basement visit we headed back upstairs and they handed out reblochon and tomme de Savoie samples. The tomme had a salty, nutty favour and the reblochon was soft and mild. I can’t say that I was crazy about either of the cheeses just as a matter of personal taste, but I can definitely understand where their virtues stand.

Tomme de Savoie cubes

Reblochon

One interesting thing to note about reblochon is the derivation of its name. Apparently, in times long pass, farmers had to pay their lords taxes in the form of milk. Wanting to keep some milk for themselves, these Savoyard farmers would purposely only partially milk their cows and pay that milk as tax. Afterwards, they would remilk, reblocher, their cattle and the cheese from that milk is thus called reblochon. Curious!

Afterwards some of us did some food purchasing and then we headed out to again marvel at the milk vending machine. Lots of students actually got some fresh milk and I had a taste of it as well. It wasn’t anything exceedingly special, just whole milk, creamy and cool. I can’t really taste the rawness, whatever that tastes like. Someday I’ll have to consume raw and pasteurized milk side by side to figure out first hand what all the fuss is about.

Another thing that I wonder about is cheese rinds. Do people eat them? I usually do for soft cheeses but is it ever unrecommended? Especially for those moldy rinded cheeses?

Confections and sweets

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June 27, 2011 Posted by | Lake Annecy, Travels, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Still Alive, and Back in France!

So…after a long hiatus from the blogging world, I’ve decided it’s high time to get back on the game. After all, I do enjoy writing about my food encounters and I am back in one of the foodie paradises of the world: France! This time I’m in the Savoie region, near the city Annecy, doing an academic summer program while having the privilege of staying with a wonderful host family.

Firstly, the scenery here is worth a mention, because it’s absolutely STUNNING.

View out towards Lac d’Annecy from Talloires

The locals are so lucky to live in such a beautiful place. The feel here definitely differs  from Paris; people are more ready to smile and life goes on at a slower pace. I’ve been here for five weeks now, and although I sometimes do miss the city-life I really can’t complain, having such beautiful views right out the door.

Anyways, on to the food: Coming into this region I fully had in mind to sample the local cuisine, and two of the beacons of the Haute-Savoie culinary scene are tartiflette and raclette. Both are substantial dishes consisting of potatoes, cheese, and some form of meat, often eaten in the winter as they are very heavy. One night my host brothers took me to a small restaurant in the mountains nearby to sample the two local specialties.

View from the mountains near the restaurant

I forget (or rather didn’t fully pay attention to) the name of the restaurant, which was small and quaint but bright and cozy. Because my host family was familiar with the owner, we chatted for a long time at the bar over some olives and drinks before sitting down and ordering. It was nice listening to the French and peeping up here and there.

Olives

An aside about the French language: I do hope that my French has improved at least a little during my time here, but I really cannot tell. I’ve been studying French for so long in school that my skills really do not match up with the years of French classes. I often ascribe it to the ineffectively of elementary/middle school French, but even discounting that I’ve taken at least 5 years worth of high school level + French courses and still I have trouble fully embracing the language. I feel that I have the most difficulty with comprehension. When others speak to me I can usually fully understand and can respond readily, but listening to others speak is a completely different story. I find it so difficult to follow conversations where I’m not involved for the sounds jumble together and I lose the ability to decipher anything. It is so difficult to join in the conversations at dinner as my host family speaks with a very rapid tongue! The same goes with films; I usually cannot figure out the plot without untranslated subtitles. I guess it’s all just a matter of exposure and practice, but it’s hard to practice when nothing comes through in the first place.

Anyways, I’ll return to the food: so around 9pm we started eating. Below is the tartiflette, which my host brothers both ordered.

Tartiflette!

It came in a medium sized ceramic dish with potatoes coddled in a thick sauce of reblochon cheese (a famous washed-rind cheese from the area) and cream and speckled with lardons, or cubed bacon. You can see a whole reblochon half on the top! I had a taste and thought it was rich but mild, for reblochon isn’t a very strong cheese. The lardons added a little bit of chewiness and texture but not much. This is definitely a comfort food and not exactly something to dine finely on.

I chose a raclette from the menu, and was very surprised when they presented me with two large plates, one w/ three boiled potatoes and a salad and the other w/ sliced cured meats and rectangles of raclette cheese. Plus a small bowl of cornichons, it was definitely a lot of food!

Salad and boiled potatoes

Mixed cured meats, cornichons, and raclette cheese (natural and smoked)

Raclette is actually a type of cheese from this region. It’s name comes from the way that it’s usually eaten: the insides of a half-wheel is slightly melted under lamp-like apparatus and a wooden utensil is used to scrape, or racler, the melted cheese onto potatoes and other accompaniments. I feel it’s a wonderfully creative and fun way to eat!

Apparatus for raclette melting

The apparatus that we used, however, was differently from the bulkier traditional method. It was basically a small stove and pan on which we melted the pieces of raclette, one at a time. Once melted, we poured the cheese onto the potatoes and ate them with the sliced meats and cornichons. I have to say, potatoes + cheese + cornichons or salami work magic together. Rich and salty and sharp from the cornichons…it was a great combination. Adding some pieces of salad to it was good too as that added some freshness and crunch. I preferred the natural raclette to the smoked variety just because the creaminess came out more in the former.

After the meal, we were all pretty stuffed. Apparently, though, diners usually consume a strong alcohol to help digest, so my host brothers ordered genepi and chartreuse, two types of local liquers, to sum up the meal. I had a little sip of the chartreuse and my goodness it was VERY strong. Stingy strong. I didn’t try anymore after that and my poor younger host brother had to finish my glass too. Lol.

It was a very fun meal, and we finally headed down the mountain and got back home at 11pm. Quite the Savoyard experience!

June 26, 2011 Posted by | French, Lake Annecy, Restaurants, Travels | Leave a comment