Soaked in spirit, buried in the earth: tomme au marc cheese

It’s hard not to like cheese and wine in France and Francophile-Switzerland. (And not just Francophile Switzerland of course, but the German, Romansh and Italian influenced cantons. Which reminds me: over here they occasionally express the difference between the French- and German-speaking parts of Switzerland as the ‘rosti divide’ – the German Swiss eat it, the French don’t. It’s not completely true, of course, but it’s a useful shorthand for the divisions between the two sometimes very different cultures.)

Food is an ideal of which cheese and wine are a reality. We went to a fête dedicated entirely to local cheeses this year. A small affair you might think: but no, it was huge and ran over a long weekend, rather like a Glastonbury of cheeses. I tasted many of the cheese on offer there but none like I was to encounter this weekend.

Vineyards at Peissy, wine-tasting at St Martin

Vineyards at Peissy, wine-tasting at St Martin

We visited the wine tasting at Peissy for St Martin, a festival celebrating the end of the hard farming work of summer and autumn and a time to drink the new and old wines of local vines. Peissy is one of a series of picturesque villages that sit within the flatter lands of the Genevois bassin, surrounded by the mountain ranges of Salève and the Jura. The wines were superb as usual. (It is said to be a big secret of Switzerland that they produce some excellent wines, particularly whites, and exclusively gameret I understand – an idea supported by the fact that the Swiss export very little, preferring to keep it to themselves.) As I tasted I couldn’t help but notice a stream of clear plastic bags help by like-minded tasters which seemed to contain a lump of earth. Another charming idiosyncrasy, I thought. I must learn more…

It wasn’t just a clod of earth at all, or at least not all of it. It was a tomme au marc. Marc, I knew, is a local spirit, akin to grappa – but that didn’t explain the earthy crust.

Tomme au marc: steeped in spirit, buried in the earth

Asking around, we discovered that the thick cake of berries, twigs, and so on that covers the cheese are a result of it being buried in the ground for two months with some fruit. Tasting a cheese that has been is the ground is, as far as I know, new to me. I have to say it was marvellous: nutty, firm, full of a wine-spirit, light but wholesome. The cake added texture as well as flavour – you eat it all, crust ‘n’ all. Is it a cheese tasting of wine, or a wine tasting of cheese? It doesn’t matter: but this cheese brings together those two inimitable French loves, cheese and wine, wine and cheese.

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