Abondance cheese is a semi-hard cheese with a subtle hazelnut flavor that is often enjoyed as is or melted. It has enjoyed Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status since 1990, meaning that it can only be made in a certain geographical area using time-tested traditional methods of production.
It gets its name from one of the primary breeds of cattle that are used to make it, and also the Abondance Valley where it’s made in the Haute Savoie department of southeastern central France, in the Alps. The valley is located in a mountainous area of the department on the border of Switzerland. The cheese has a long history, dating back at least until the 12th century. It was even eaten at a Papal conclave in 1381, which gave it a reputation of being associated with the nobility.
During the summer, many farmers take their cattle high up into the mountains to graze (summer transhumance). At this altitude, the cows graze on fine grasses that are rich in nutrients that encourage lactation and help to give Abondance cheese its classic taste. During the fall, because many of these Alpine mountains are turned into tracks for skiing, the cattle are brought down to stable (fall transhumance) and treat themselves to hay from the summer.
Only three breeds of cattle are authorized for making Abondance cheese – Abondance (of course), Tarine and Montbéliarde. After 2020, at least 55% of each herd used for the production of the cheese will have to be of the Abondance breed, which has amazingly been in the area for at least 15 centuries. You can recognize an Abondance cow by its mahogany color and chestnut-colored circles around their eyes – sometimes called their “glasses” or “halos.”
The cheese can be eaten simply on a piece of bread and served as an aperitif, at the end of a meal or as a snack. It’s also sometimes cut into cubes to enjoy as a complement to a salad or other meal.
Berthoud, a special regional dish of Haute Savoie and the surrounding areas, also includes Abondance as its main component alongside white wine.
Why not try it out with the recipe below?
- 100 g Abondance cheese
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 pinch of nutmeg (optional)
- 4 teaspoons of white Savoie wine (may substitute other dry white wine)
- 4 teaspoons coffee
Rub four ramekins with garlic cloves and add four thin slices of Abondance cheese (150 g per person). Sprinkle coffee and white wine on everything and add pepper generously. Broil in oven for five to ten minutes until the crust is golden.
Serve hot with bread and unpeeled baked potatoes.