It’s sad to say, but farmstead cheeses are disappearing in France. As the cheese buyer for Formaggio Kitchen, I do what I can to make sure this does not happen. This is why I feel compelled to highlight the last remaining producer of Persillé de Tignes and to share my love of this cheese.
Persillé de Tignes is a mixed milk cheese made with both goat and cows’ milk and, back in the day, it is said to have been one of Charlemagne’s favorite cheeses. In the 9th century, it was common for farms in the Savoie to make this cheese. However, with an increased demand for pasteurization and the economic challenges of small family dairy farming, production of Persillé de Tignes has nearly disappeared.
The rough rind of Persillé de Tignes is a mix of earthy molds that contribute to the aroma and flavor of the cheese. Even the tiny cheese mites that populate the rind contribute to the complexity of the cheese. The word persillé translates into ‘marbling’ or ‘parsleyed’ and refers to the appearance of the cheese’s interior. The way this cheese is made, oxygen is able to penetrate the rind, creating natural blueing or greening.
As the cheese ages, the texture and color of the paste changes. In its youth, the paste is white with a flaky, yet moist texture. The flavor is bright and biscuity with a slight spice. As the cheese ages, the window of moist flakiness shrinks and is surrounded by a window sill of darker, gummy paste. The flavors become more rustic, animally and musty – YET DELICIOUS!
I have to give thanks to Paulette Marmottan and her family (the only producer left) for keeping the tradition of this cheese alive. Marmottan and her herd of 30 cows and 80 goats produce Persillé de Tignes in the Haute Tarentaise. Every morning, she blends fresh, warm cow and goats’ milk in a large vat and adds a touch of yogurt to start fermentation. After a few days, she salts and mixes the curd and transfers it into molds.
The cheese is then aged for a few weeks on location and given to affineur Joseph Paccard. Along with his team, Jean-François Paccard (Joseph’s son and master affineur) ages this cheese to perfection for an extra 2 months, flipping the cheese and patting down the wild molds of the Savoie.
For all of these reasons – the history, the tradition and the passion involved in its production and most importantly its taste – this cheese is close to my heart and IT MUST SURVIVE. So come on in, don’t be scared by the look of it. Grab a nice bottle of Chardonnay, a Morgon, or whatever you like to sip, and snack on this amazing, unique, delicious, and precious cheese.
For more information on the uphill battle faced by Paulette Marmottan and for more photos, check out this article that appeared in The Boston Globe in 2010.
Kurt Gurdal is the General Manager and lead cheese buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.