Like modern French performance art, here is a cheese that makes you work very hard to appreciate it. First impression is that it’s a bit awkward, maybe ugly… it stinks… it sticks to everything. Yet, like Marlene Dietrich warbling her way through La Vie en rose, somehow you suffer through then all comes clear: Tomme des Pyrénées hides its goodness. If eaten quickly, eaten too cold, it’s mild and, frankly, a bit dull. At room temperature, its sagging carcass even more visually challenging, you let the paste linger on your tongue and the complexity comes to life. Earth, forest duff, lightly fruity but still pungent and salty, you need to savor this one to appreciate its richness.
This particular example comes from French Basque country and is aged by the still-young but already legendary Rodolphe Le Meunier who is seemingly single-handedly returning France to its cheesemaking roots. Rediscovering, perfecting and even salvaging traditional cheesemaking in the land that is, really, the cradle of the art.
Meunier’s Tomme des Pyrénées arrives in the US as a raw milk, uncooked and pressed, bark-bound 11lb wheel. Unlike, say, America’s Upland’s Rush Creek Reserve or Jasper Hill’s Harbison or Winnimere, this is not a runny, spoonable fromage like French Époisses de Bourgogne. While always soft, the paste of Tomme des Pyrénées remains rubbery soft to sticky.
The nose is quite ripe; you might think it was a washed rind cheese. Again, it’s not Époisses stinky; rather, it’s odor is more like feet after a long day… in damp wool socks… after hiking the Pyrénées… with a wet dog… who’s singing La Vie en rose
Cheese: Tomme des Pyrénées
Milk Type: cow (raw)
Rind: natural/spruce bound
Shape: ~11lb wheel
Tasting notes: mild but complex, salt, earth, wet leaves