Monday, 8 October 2012


Abondance is a cheese I always associate with autumn, though it's available from July through to Christmas;  it's a fairly youthful cheese, with a maturation period of only 90 days, made in Savoy, near the Swiss border. This is one of France's oldest cheeses, dating from the twelfth century when it was made by the monks of Sainte Marie de l'Abondance abbey; it was served to the Papal conclave that met in Avignon in 1381.It's been an AOC since 1990 (in fact, two AOCs, Abondance, and Abondance de Savoie - though both come from Haute-Savoie, though the distinction suggests otherwise).

It's nutty, reminiscent of hazelnuts to be precise, and slightly acidic - with a lemony edge to it - and creamy in taste; firm, slightly chalky in texture. The one I tasted this week I find slightly too young - the taste is at first almost imperceptible. You have to be patient, chewing and holding the cheese in your mouth without swallowing, to let those nutty, tart flavours come through (and they do). (It's a little like Comté or Beaufort, but I find it less grainy and dry than most Comtés.)

It's a holey as well as a holy cheese, but unlike, say, Emmenthal with its round, large, holes, tends to develop horizontal fissures. The consistency is quite hard, but still creamy; not chewy and glossy like Emmenthal, not quite as creamy as Saint-Nectaire, and chalkier than Comté.

Abondance comes in a small wedge, with a thin, orangeish rind; each disc of the cheese weighs about ten kilos, so you rarely see a whole cheese. Even on the cheese stall, I've never seen more than a half cheese - someone has always broken into the whole one before I arrive.

As well as eating the cheese raw, you can bake slices of Abondance in a ramekin rubbed with garlic, with a little wine or madeira drizzled over it, and some pepper and nutmeg, to make 'berthoud' - a sort of fondue. I look forward to trying it over the next few days.