Continuing the theme of presenting cheeses from my platter, I thought that Abondance deserved an introduction. Particularly given this epic advert that has been up in most of the Lyon metro stations recently.
Abondance is a pressed and cooked raw cow’s milk cheese in the Savoie, a mountainous part of France that houses some of the French Alps.
|"You're going to eat tradition" (with an implied "whether you like it or not")|
Check out the official site
The origins of the cheese are tied to the work of the monks at the l’Abbaye d’Abondance who, from the 14th century, created pastures in the Val de l’Abondance and carefully selected a breed of cows, also known as Abondance. The goal of this work was similar to that of most alpine cheese producers, essentially to find a way of storing the richness of summer grasses and plants through the brutally cold and desolate winter months. Cheese is a great medium for this, particularly the harder, cooked cheeses which age gracefully allowing storage for anything from months to years.
|Abondance, a handsome beast|
Just to clarify, when I say that Abondance is a cooked cheese, I mean that once the curd has been formed from the milk in a big vat (like a big jelly), it is cut into lots of little cubes – this mixture of curd cubes and residual whey is then heated, to about 48oC in the case of Abondance. This causes the curd cubes to tighten and shrink, expelling more liquid. Generally speaking, the lower the moisture content, the longer the cheese will age.
Abondance is considered to be a semi-cooked cheese. Other cooked cheeses include the classic French examples of Comté and Beaufort, which are both cooked to around 53oC. As a result, Comté and Beaufort tend to reach their peaks of flavour and texture at around 15 – 18 months (although this can vary hugely) and Abondance can’t really be taken much older than a year.
Personally I prefer this cheese when it’s matured - the best part of a year old, such as the piece in these photos - but it is available as young as 3 or 4 months old where the rind will be much paler and the pâte significantly less craggy looking.
|Well aged Abondance, showing off its fissured pâte.|
In this well-aged piece, the pâte has dried and fissured but the flavour has also developed significantly, imbuing the natural fruity, hazelnutty quality of the cheese with strength, piquancy and a slight bitterness (which refreshes the palate). Watch out though, with some examples of the cheese at this age, it can develop a very strong stinging finish on the tongue.
This complex flavour, coupled with a relatively soft pâte give a perfect cooking cheese, that is ideally suited to the tops of gratins and the classic après ski fondue.
Another factor that separates this cheese from the Beauforts and Comtés is the treatment of the rind during aging, typically rubbing with water or a water and vinegar mix to develop flavour characteristics commonly found in the soft, washed-rind cheeses such as Epoisses and Langres (more on Langres coming soon to a computer screen near you). This is generally where that bitterness comes from.
|The dark brown rind can take on an almost red tinge when well matured|
The name Abondance, and the methods through which it is produced have been protected under the French AOC system (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlé) since 1990. If you can find it, you should really be looking for the rarer Abondance Fermier, which is essentially produced through the same process, but mechanisation is largely prohibited.