But it is not. This beautiful tomme/toma raw milk cheese is from Northern Italy, the Piedmont. Pichin, in the regional Piemontese dialect, literally translates to “man of the hut”, it’s a tribute to Nonno Magno, last of the “Bergier”, (“Bergier” is Occitan for shepherd), the grandfather of Egidio and Mario Fiandino, whose name graces Fattorie Fandino in Villafalletto, Cuneo where this fairly rare cheese is made by hand.
Rare on store shelves in the US though getting easier to find, how this cheese is made is more rare: Lou Bergier Pichin uses a vegetable rennet in the kinara method, relying on dried alpine thistle flowers to set the cheese. In Italy kinara is exceptionally rare; mostly it’s employed a little more commonly on the Iberian peninsula. Fottorie Fiandino makes five cheeses this way. they’ve recently premiered “Gran Kinara”, the first hard aged cheese in this method. I hope to be able to track some down.
You might guess just observing the rind, shrouded in a powdery coat of gray, blue, green and brown molds that this cheese will smell and taste of damp cave. Smell it most certainly does. Good specimens are thick with the sweetness of earth after a spring rain. Full of minerality and loam. The rind bears that flavor too but it is mild. The nose of the paste is dominantly butter, even buttered popcorn. The flavor is wonderful: mild, butter, cream, a little barnyard with a slight acidic finish that balances against salt. Texture is semisoft and creamy. The cheese is sold young, aged just two months (which allows US importation as it is made from raw milk – a win for us).
Overall it is rich and satisfying. If you like tomme-style French cheese, please seek this one out- it’s similar but quite different from others in the style. A wide range of wines can pair here provided they have some body and heft. While I’m predominately a drinker of Italian reds, I’ve been enjoying a heartier French chardonnay from the Macon-Villages appellation that I suspect might be excellent. Arneis from the region would be a good bet.
Cheese: Lou Bergier Pichin
Where: Villafalletto, Cuneo, Italy
Milk Type: cow (raw)
Shape: 5lb wheel
Tasting notes: butter, damp earth, cave, salt