Persillé de Tignes: A True Cheese of the Savoie - Formaggio Kitchen

Persillé de Tignes: A True Cheese of the Savoie

Persillé de Tignes

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.

Persillé de Tignes - paste and rind

Persillé de Tignes – paste and rind

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.

Persillé de Tignes aging in the Paccard cavesAs 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.

Persillé de Tignes sign at Joseph PaccardThe 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.

Persillé de Tignes with wineFor 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.

  • Zack Roof (short guy, frequent cheesebuyer)

    Hi Kurt,

    Great post. It is very sad indeed to hear that French artisan farmstead cheeses are disappearing. As you have clearly illustrated with Persille de Tignes, this arena of cheese produces some of the best tasting examples in the world, and to learn that they’re on the demise is strange and discomfoting. What do you think is the cause of this problem? Is it economics based, or is the trade just dying as the spread of technology increases? Learning now about this conundrum, I will certainly do my part to keep the trade alive (which should be a win win all around – I get tasty cheese, and they continue to produce!). I will be sure to pick some of this up on my next visit.

    • kurtgurdal

      Hi Zack – Thank you for your comment and I am glad you enjoyed the post. In response to your question – I believe one of the major reasons for the decline of French farmhouse cheese is simply the lack of someone to carry on the cheesmaking tradition. Back in the day, Cheesemaker Jr. was expected to carry on the family business – it was the source of the family’s livelihood and, generally, there were few other income sources available. In the present day, Cheesemaker Jr. can easily choose an entirely different career path. Farming and making cheese is not as romantic as it is often portrayed – in reality, it is hard, hard work. Today’s remaining farmstead cheesemakers are often doing what they do for love and not money.

      Another contributing factor to the decline of farmhouse cheesemaking is, I believe, increased regulation in the dairy industry. Many regulations have been implemented for valid reasons while others betray a lack of understanding of how farms work. In addition, legislative changes sometimes require large scale capital investments on the part of cheesemakers, investments that can be prohibitively expensive to small producers and, as a result, favor industrial producers. Industrial cheeses are made at a fraction of what it costs a farmhouse producer due to economies of scale and, often, lower quality but cheaper raw materials. These companies are also very tricky with labeling and packaging, making it difficult for the consumer to differentiate between a shoddily made (but cheaper) industrial product and a true farmhouse cheese.

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  • Nice post, Kurt – sorry I didn’t read this sooner! I LOVE this cheese. Pair it with I Clivi Brazan 2010 and it’s STUNNING.