Kurt, Mary and I left Pontarlier early on a Tuesday morning, headed to the Savoie and to our friends at Joseph Paccard. After some initial craziness picking up our guide, Celine Viguier, on the side of the highway, we were well on our way to glory.
This leg of our trip gave us an opportunity to meet farmers and cheesemakers, a rare treat in Europe. Our first stop in the awe-inspiring Rhône-Alpes was at the farm of our Tomme de Savoie producers, the Demoulin family. Two young brothers, Thierry and Bertrand, make all the cheese. Thierry stays at their Alpage farm during the summer and Bertrand at their year-round farm (the one we visited).
The hospitality they extended to us was amazing: homemade tomato tart (made by Bertrand’s wife, Carine), saucisson with hazelnuts, Tomme de Savoie (of course) and an outstanding Mondeuse Blanche were among the treats served to us. A small presentation by Thierry’s wife, Sophie, explained the intricacies and passion of this family. They own 45 Montbéliarde cows and, while they are not certified organic, they fully abide by the principles of organic farming.
After driving through ever more outstanding valleys, we then stopped at the Demaison farm, home of brothers Cristian and Jacques Avett and and our Tome des Bauges (and soon Tomette de Chèvre). They produce traditional fermier, AOC cheeses. Celine warned us that not all farms are modern and this was the case here. These brothers are very old school. Although a little shy, they had no problem showing off their small cave and fine cheeses, finishing with a tasting of their cheese and wine. We also picked up a bottle of walnut oil here that had been produced by their neighbors down the street.
After a pit stop for coffee on the crystal clear Lac d’Annecy, we climbed higher and deeper into the mountains. Our next stop came at the Abbaye de Tamié. The abbaye is an old cheesemaking monastery and Cistercian (Trappist) monks still carry on the traditions of old. Milk is sourced from about 10 surrounding villages and made into a soft Reblochon-style cheese, soon to be in our stores.
Although the abbaye dates from the late 17th century, the stunning, traditional cheeses are made in the most modern of facilities. Frère Marco, our guide, explained that while the cheesemaking is still largely performed by monks, local villagers do help with production. The abbaye is home to only 30 monks and cheese sales represent their primary source of income.
After Mary’s close encounter with a cow, we then headed high into the mountains to Manigod, home of the Paccard aging facilities. Sharp turns and curves overlooking a deep valley led us into Reblochon country. As an affineur, Paccard is outstanding. Reblochon is their primary focus and, since they only buy and sell fermier cheeses, the standard is very high.
Once in Manigod, we met Jean-François Paccard, son of the company’s founder, Joseph. He and Celine took us to perhaps the most fascinating farm of all: the Alpage farm of the Burgat family, producers of Tomme Fermier and Reblochon. In their cozy kitchen, we met Guillaume and Murielle Burgat and their two sons, Rémi and Andréa. Following tradition, Murielle is the primary cheesemaker while it is Guillaume who manages the haying.
We not only tasted their cheese, Tomme de Manigodine, we watched Murielle make it – from cutting the curds, to packing the molds, all the while tending to her youngest son (and occasionally disciplining the eldest).
The Manigodine (which translates to the woman of Manigod) is a large format Reblochon. It is being made just for the US market. Once again, we were treated very well and left stuffed with more wine and cheese than any of us actually needed at that point!
After our visit with the Burgats, we made our way to our accommodation – a beautiful chalet perched on the mountainside. Joined by Celine and Jean-François, we ate fondue (although not Paccard cheese!) and salad for dinner. After bidding farewell to the Paccard team, we finished the evening under the stars with cigars and beer, letting the calm and peace of the valley finally sink in.