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Friday, May 15, 2009

Toma Cheese







Toma Alpe Veglia (left) and Toma alle Vinacce di Barolo (right).

Do you like cheese? I like cheese. A LOT. Maybe you remember the eight cheese dinner I attended. Or the wine and cheese course. So imagine my excitement when a friend told me about a cheese shop in Verbania that I was unaware of. La Casera, in the center of Verbania Intra, only a few streets from the Intra imbarcadero and the bus lines. La Casera specializes in Piemontese cheeses. And the most Piemontese of the Piemontese cheeses is Toma.

It is on Alpine meadows, such as this one in northern Piemonte, that Toma is made.

Toma is a cow’s milk cheese is made throughout the Italian Alps. In the past, it often substituted for meat in those isolated regions. And also due to that isolation, many towns developed their own version of Toma; today there are 20 that have been awarded the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) mark, with the best considered to be those that come from mountain villages around Novara, Vercelli, Biella, Torino, and Cuneo.

To truly be called a Toma, this cheese should be produced in the classic manner. The milk comes from Alpine cows, often the Bruna cow, which grazes at high altitudes in the mountain meadows. The farmer who tends his cows on these fields carefully oversees their grazing, he milks the cows, and he produces his own Toma in that same location. The cheese is then seasoned for at least three months and formed into wheels of 15 to 25 centimeters in diameter and a depth of 5 to 10 centimeters. The different varieties of Toma depend upon the length of time that they are left to mature, and the types of seasoning they receive. Young Tomas are sweet and milky, they become more tangy with age.

La Casera carries many varieties of Toma. I counted more than one dozen, and the varieties they sell will change with availability during the seasons. I see a Toma Alpe Veglia, made only in the mountains, only in the summer. Toma del Piode, taking its name from the village in Val Sesia where it is made, and where it is still traditionally served with Polenta Taragna. And Toma alle Vinacce di Barolo, which rests for a month in Barolo grape marcs, picking up its flavor and aroma.

Customers wait to buy cheese at the Friday market in Stresa.

Toma is readily available in the Stresa Friday markets, I've bought delicious chunks of it there. So when here, if you like cheese, like I do, buy a piece of Toma, some bread, some fruit, a bottle of wine, and find a bench on the lungolago for a little Piemontese picnic. And when in Verbania, stop by La Casera to see, learn, and taste more.

I appreciate learning about one thing at a time. Toma per esempio, for example. Then I'll be, not an expert, but knowledgeable at least, about this one thing. I'd like nothing more than to go to La Casera and try and compare several versions of these Toma. Here's the Web site: www.formaggidieros.it They have a wonderful selection and great English descriptions of cheeses.


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