The mountains of Savoie and Haute-Savoie are an impactful, special place. It is truly an awesome sight to stand in on the Swiss side of Lake Geneva, and look across to the mist-shrouded giants looming in the distance. Better still is to travel into them, climbing from the valley along the Rhone river or down in the medieval town of Annecy, up into the towering heights above.
It is no surprise that the skiing (and après-ski) around Mont Blanc gets a lot of press, but this land’s stunning peaks also house truly great food. The wines here are famed, particularly the whites of Altesse, Chardonnay and Chasselas, not to mention one of France’s smallest and oldest sparkling wine appellations in Seyssel. Robust herbal liqueurs such as Gentian and Genepi also boast a distinctive pleasure. But it is the cheese that truly offers a taste of the mountains.
Fittingly, some of France’s most iconic cheeses come from this equally iconic region, and nearly all are available either in their village dairy versions, or single herd, farmstead (fermier) incarnations, many crafted from the milk of local Tarine and Abondance cows. Reblochon de Savoie – with its powerful aromas of farm and leather – dominates, with mellow yet funky slices famously folded into a comforting home of potatoes and lardons in Savoie’s most famous dish, tartiflette. Similarly there are the mountain giants of Beaufort and Emmental de Savoie, of 60kg and 90kg respectively. The former is matured to firm, sweet, slightly fruity complexity, and the summer milk version bursts with hints of browned butter and meadow.
Far rarer is Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage, made only from alpine milk and crafted by hand in small huts, and the similarly ancient-method Bleu de Termignon and Persillé de Tignes. The earthy, mushroomy, and plump Tomme de Savoie, Tomme des Bauges and Tomme Crayeuse are the ubiquitous table cheeses of the region, joined frequently by Abondance, which serves almost like a smaller and spicier Beaufort.
Not to be forgotten are incredible Alpine goat’s cheeses, such as the pungent Chevrotin des Aravis and the young, snowy Tarentais, fuelled by the rough forage of craggy valleys. And lest we ignore the power of gooey cheese, Vacherin Fermier des Aravis – a rarer cousin of Jura’s more famous Mont D’Or – rightfully stakes its place as one of France’s greatest spoonable cheeses, and of course there is meltable Raclette made in nearly every corner of these Alps. What can I say? C’est le paradis du fromage!
About the author
Nick Bayne is a cheese specialist for The Fine Cheese Co., 2015 Champion of the Cheesemonger Invitational, and bronze medallist at the 2023 Concours Mondial de Meilleur Fromager. He is responsible for sourcing and selecting artisan European cheeses to bring to the United Kingdom.